Ending Street Violence

September 26, 1991

Quantae Johnson, 4, has survived a bullet fired in anger at someone else. Doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital, where Quantae underwent successful surgery to remove a large-caliber slug from his brain, are calling his case a miracle. Danielle Booth, 3, died Aug. 18 while in Atlanta to visit relatives. Shanika Day, 3, died on a West Baltimore street as bullets fired into a man trying to shield her passed through his body. Lakiya Bradford, 9, survived a bullet to her chest as she walked an East Baltimore street July 23.

Many Baltimoreans have responded with outrage. Street marches and community meetings are good beginnings in efforts to stop the violence. Too many others, however, have acted as if such problems are incapable of solution.

That's not true. An excellent special section in the U.S. Public Health Service journal, Public Health Reports, makes the point that street violence, treated as a public health problem, can be halted. It is a difficult problem, with many pitfalls awaiting officials, community leaders and health specialists designing strategies for intervention. But as the study noted, the "prevailing notion among the general public that violence is inevitable and not preventable" is a myth. Specialists from four scattered communities report successes.

Some of the gunfire turning neighborhoods into hazard zones springs from flourishing "open-air" drug markets. It has discouraged many well-meaning citizens from joining efforts to clean up the streets. "The Winnable War: A Community Guide to Eradicating Street Drug Markets," by Roger Conner and Patrick Burns of Washington, makes a good case that concerted community opposition can make even that stubborn social ill more amenable to solution.

Solutions cannot be had at the grass-roots level, even with support by public-health authorities, without full cooperation and support by the highest levels of municipal and state government. The key point, though, is that solutions can be found. There is too much evidence at hand, piecemeal as it is, that the broad will of the community can overcome the lawless intentions of the unruly. In Baltimore, as in every other American community, we have no choice. The good people, who outnumber the hooligans more than 10-1, cannot abandon their homes, businesses and work places. The fight to bring safety back to the streets must go on.

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