A casualty of violent crime at home

Alice Steinbach

March 25, 1991|By Alice Steinbach

He was wearing his Operation Desert Storm baseball cap when he was gunned down last week in front of his aunt's home in Detroit. By the time his wife ran outside, Army Spec. Anthony Riggs, 22, was dying in a gutter -- his car stolen by whoever shot him.

After surviving for seven months in Saudi Arabia as part of a Patriot missile unit, Anthony Riggs, father of a 3-year-old daughter, lasted only 10 days before becoming a casualty in his own country.

A few hours after his death, a letter written by Riggs from Saudi Arabia arrived in the mail. Dated Feb. 22, the letter contained this reassurance from the young soldier to his family: "There's no way I'm going to die in this rotten country. With the Lord's grace and his guidance, I'll walk American soil once again."

Anthony Riggs' words take on an even deeper meaning for us when we think of another American's recent words: "Our veterans deserve to come home to an America where it is safe to walk the streets," President Bush said earlier this month at a presentation of his new crime bill.

Now Army Spec. Anthony Riggs is dead and we are left wondering: To which casualty list should we add his name?

Was he a victim of the not-yet-won war on drugs in this country? Statistics in Detroit show that drugs are at the root of 89 percent of that city's murders.

Was he a victim of the crime problem that rages unabated in this country? A new report by the Senate Judiciary Committee states that violent crime has increased 516 percent since 1960 -- a figure that prompted the committee to call America "the most violent and self-destructive nation on earth."

Or was Anthony Riggs a victim of something in our culture that is more subtle than drugs or crimes: the growing attitude that life is cheap. It is an attitude which says, "I will kill you for your car. Or your jacket. Or just because I feel like it. And I don't care what the consequences are, because my life is as cheap as yours."

Of course, no one is born with such an attitude. It is learned, in part, by those who must live in an uncaring environment; a brutalizing environment which leaves some of its citizens unable to care.

Apparently Army Spec. Anthony Riggs was shot by someone who didn't care. How many others, you wonder, of the 500,000 returning Desert Storm soldiers will share his fate and become yet another crime statistic?

Which brings up the question: In the aftermath of the gulf war and President Bush's expressed hopes for a "new world order" -- which he defines as diverse nations working together to achieve "peace and security, freedom and the rule of law" -- is there any hope of seeing a similar focus on problems here at home?

Translate President Bush's so-called "new world order" into domestic policy and what do you have? Well, you have a "new national order," one in which diverse groups of people in this country work together to achieve a common domestic agenda of peace and security, freedom and the rule of law.

Of course, if we want the idea to attract any kind of "followership" we'd need the kind of leadership we had in the Persian Gulf war. We'd need a "Stormin' Norman" to launch a frontal attack on the crime problem and a Colin Powell to address some of the social issues that lie simmering beneath the surface. And we'd need an administration as firm in its resolve to win the domestic wars on education and the economy as it was to win the gulf war.

But a new national order would also require something of us, the citizens of this nation. It would require us to consider the possibility that if we are to move ahead as a nation, we must pay greater attention to the individual's responsibility to the larger community -- and less to what psychiatrist Robert Coles calls "the Almighty Self."

And given the diversity of our population -- which grows ever more diverse as we approach the year 2000 -- a new national order would require us to undertake the task of seeing that the larger community exists in the form of -- to use Martin Luther King's phrase -- "a beloved community."

And to assure its success we would need to understand that rights, as someone pointed out, are only half of the democratic equation; the other half consists of civic duties.

It's a daunting task. But one we must attempt if we wish the death of Army Spec. Anthony Riggs not to have been in vain.

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