Our Violent Society

CARL T. ROWAN

August 13, 1991|By CARL T. ROWAN

WASHINGTON — Washington. - The Senate Judiciary Committee has issued a horrifying report that more than 23,700 Americans will be murdered this year -- a record -- and that an American is twice as likely to be among the victims as was the case 30 years ago.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., D-Del., says that to find the root causes of our ''murder epidemic . . . we need look no further than three D's': drugs . . . deadly weapons . . . and demographics, fueling a growth in violent teen-aged gangs.''

Those three Ds are certainly powerful factors in the record pileup of human carnage, but it would be a mistake to limit the blame to them, and thus blind ourselves to a fundamental truth:

Ours is a very violent society. Mothers and fathers are slaying their children. Children are murdering their parents. Husbands are killing wives, and vice versa. You can get killed for taking a parking place that someone thinks he is entitled to. Or just shot to death at random while driving down a highway.

The murder statistics don't begin to tell the extent to which violence permeates America. We see it in the brutal beatings that occur when people of one race ''trespass'' on the neighborhood of people of another race or ethnic group.

We see it in our police departments where cops dare to boast of beating suspects. We see it in the widespread embrace of capital punishment by public officials who delude themselves into believing that state-sanctioned killings will prevent increases murders, even though the result may be the opposite.

We see a spirit of violence in American celebrations of our ability to kill massively in ''little wars,'' never letting our minds form a vision of the faces of the dead women and children.

The leaders of this society who foment this spirit of violence then shriek in outrage against those who murder, crying ''Fry em, fry em!'' So they offer us a crime bill that lists several new crimes for which the penalty is to be capital punishment, seeking to deceive us into believing that this will be a barrier against further widespread criminal behavior.

It is easy to deplore, even hate, violent youth gangs. But what do we expect from teen-agers who have been victimized in so many ways by social, economic and even physical violence?

We leave a third of America's teen-agers bereft of meaningful education, and almost as many jobless, yet we are outraged when they do not uphold ''law and order.'' Youngsters who have no stake in the ''order'' are not going to show high regard for the law.

The advocates of more executions and more and bigger prisons don't want to face these truths, so they cry ''soft on crime'' at anyone who dares to talk about the ways in which millions of Americans are alienated, so filled with rage that some of them will kill another human being as easily as they would swat a fly.

The spirit of vengeance dominates all our ruling circles, including the U.S. Supreme Court where the majority says, ''Kill em, kill em.''

We need some leaders who will give priority to devising ways and programs to ensure all young Americans that they are a respected part of this society, and that they have so great a stake in its future that they will both honor and advocate conduct that is in keeping with just rules of law.

If we go on responding to alienation with oppression, and to every level of personal misconduct with state violence, we shall continue to be cursed by horrible rates of murder, and of every other crime of violence.

Carl Rowan is a syndicated columnist.

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