Obstacles

CARL T. ROWAN

April 22, 1992|By CARL T. ROWAN

BOCA RATON, FLORIDA. — Boca Raton, Florida -- The case of the long-delayed gas chamber execution of double murderer Robert Alton Harris in San Francisco is just another bit of dismaying evidence of the extent to which fear of crime has warped the American mindset.

After 25 years of resisting the death penalty, Californians have joined other Americans in the belief that use of the gas chamber or the electric chair will deter people from committing the kinds of grotesque crimes which Harris carried out against two teen-age boys in 1978.

It ought to say something to thinking Americans that even as our numbers of executions climb, the homicide rate soars, with new murder records set in dozens of our cities every year.

It is clear beyond debate that the death penalty is no deterrent to any violent crime. The statistics make it more than plausible that states carrying out executions are only adding to the spirit of violence, to the rampant disregard for human life that has plunged us into an atmosphere of drive-by shootings and murder at whim.

Despite the admonition in Romans 12:19 that ''Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord,'' this society and its Supreme Court have adopted a policy that says vengeance belongs to the relatives of crime victims who encourage the death penalty with emotional ''victim impact'' statements.

Despite the exhortation in Romans 12:21, ''Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good,'' America's leaders have never tried to overcome crime by doing good things for the alienated, hopeless children of this society. Not just white leaders, but black mayors and cops, wallow in the illusion that they can stop black crime by locking up more and more young black men. In Washington, D.C., a predominantly black city with a black mayor and a black police chief, four out of every ten young black men get ensnared by the criminal justice system. On a national level, the percentage of young black males who are imprisoned is greater than the rate of South Africa.

A draconian spirit of mind and heart has taken over in America. Health care for the poorest families is virtually ignored. George Bush jokes mordantly when he calls himself the ''education president.'' Welfare children are the subjects of brutal, mindless, heartless bashing. Yet, the White House, the Pentagon and others continue to demand an absurdly high level of spending for arms on grounds that somewhere out there America has a scary foe to replace the Soviet Union.

We are cursed by rampant use of illicit drugs in this society, and our current government wants to delude us into believing that it is solving this problem by kidnaping foreigners, as in the case of Panama's Manuel Noriega, and putting them on trial in the United States. Who notices that Professor Mark Kleiman of Harvard University has just reported to the U.S. office of National Drug Control Policy that heroin use in this country has reached ''pre-epidemic stage'' and could soon overtake cocaine as America's destructive drug of choice?

Despite the new spirit of vengeance, the embrace of state executions, the almost mindless resort to jailings, the Justice Department tells us that 2,612,150 violent crimes were committed in 1991, up 7.9 per cent from 1990; and that there were 207,610 rapes and attempted rapes in 1991, up 59 per cent from the previous year.

With all of its fear-inspired budget increases, and its assaults on personal liberties having failed, the FBI offers us a new ''solution'' to the crime problem. It wants a law making it possible for FBI agents to use high-tech, sophisticated equipment to tap the telephones of just about anybody in the land.

When will we find leaders who will tell Americans the truth: that letting Harris suffer 6 to 12 minutes before he dies from poisonous gas in California, or increased use of the electric chair, or wiretaps, will not reduce crime? Which politician will dare to say Romans 12:21 had it right in telling us, ''Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good''?

Only those with the ''bully pulpit'' of the presidency, or of governor's mansions, can deliver Americans from the nation-destroying notion that state-ordered violence is the antidote to gruesome criminal behavior by Americans who are full of resentment and rage.

Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.

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