Iraq was easy compared to the war on crime

Mike Royko

March 11, 1991|By Mike Royko | Mike Royko,Tribune Media Services

NOW THAT WE'VE shown that we can win a war with Iraq, President Bush has called upon America to win the war on crime.

As Bush pointed out in a speech to some prosecutors and judges, some soldiers were safer in the Middle East than if they had been walking the streets of their hometowns.

So Bush said we must show the same moral force, determination and fortitude as we did in freeing Kuwait to free our cities from crime.

As a city dweller and an occasional crime victim (one armed robbery, one unarmed mugging, three burglaries and two stolen cars), I'm all for freeing our cities from crime.

But it isn't clear to me how Bush and his administration plan on going about it. When two young men stuck a gun to my nose, I didn't even consider displaying any determination or moral force, and I doubt if they would have been impressed. More likely, they would have shot me in the nostril. So there are times when it is better to restrain your moral force, lose your wallet but retain your nose.

Bush talked about how we need a "real death penalty." I'm not sure what that means. We're executing people now and I assume that they are really dead when we bury them. If not, they have legitimate grounds for an appeal. But we've discovered that while execution satisfies the craving for revenge, it doesn't do much to reduce the murder rate. If anything, the murder rate has gone up in states that are frying the most criminals.

He also implied that we coddle criminals too much, letting them appeal their sentences and use "technicalities" to avoid punishment. If that's the problem, then the solution seems simple enough: Abolish the appellate courts and the state and U.S. Supreme Courts. For that matter, we might do away with courts entirely and let the cops dish out punishment at the station house.

But the knee-jerk liberals would moan about that, so we're stuck with our present system. Which brings us to another problem: not enough prison space for all of our criminals. That's why they get out early.

There's a solution to that, though. President Bush should tell Congress that he wants to raise everybody's income tax so the federal government can help local governments build more prisons.

Or if he doesn't want to do that, he should make a speech urging that all cities and states impose local income taxes and higher real estate taxes to pay for the new pokies.

Calling for higher taxes might require some moral force and determination, but I'm sure Bush has the courage to sneer at any unfavorable poll results.

Or he can take a more direct approach to launching a war on crime -- using methods that have been proven highly effective.

In every city, the cops know which general areas have the highest crime rates. They can even tell you which blocks are the most dangerous. In some cases, they know which houses are used by the well-armed street gangs and the crack dealers.

So why mess around with writs, warrants, judges, juries, appeals and the rest of the paper work? It's like diplomacy. There comes a time when the talking stops and the stomping starts.

We have the planes, we have the keenly intelligent bombs, the profoundly intellectual missiles and the pinpoint precision. So why not send them in to take out -- a fine phrase, "take out" -- parts of the Bronx in New York, the West Side in Chicago and all the other high-crime sections of the big cities?

And I know that politics shouldn't enter into it, but let's face it: Most of those who would be taken out cleanly, as well as anyone unfortunate enough to be plinked by collateral damage, aren't Republicans anyway.

Some might call that harsh. But let us be realistic. Presidents and other politicians have been talking tough about crime for decades. They said we should hang the varmints high, lock them and throw away the key, let them know we mean business. Why, some have even gone so far as to say that we should kick butt. But America must have the world's most stubborn criminals. They simply refuse to heed the hard words of their commander in chief. Why, some of them won't even listen to their own moms.

Of course, there are those dreamy-eyed types who have theories about crime and its causes. They talk about education, job training, breaking the cycle of poverty, ignorance, unemployment and busted families.

We've always had those kinds of silly theorists. Even 100 years ago when Chicago's highest crime rates could be found in the city's Irish neighborhoods, there were those who made excuses.

Fortunately, we've been blessed with Republican presidents who didn't buy any of those bleeding-heart theories: Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush. They know why a criminal is a criminal. Because he's a born criminal, that's why. And there's no sense in throwing money at born criminals, even if they haven't been born yet.

So it's just the luck of the draw that more born criminals grow up on the West Side of Chicago and drop out of school when they're 16 than grow up in New England and go to George Bush's old prep school.

Anyway, our president says the answer is moral force, and he must be right.

But if that doesn't work, move way out to the suburbs. Most of his friends did.

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