Confronting a crisis of violent crime

August 03, 1992

Two recent episodes, one about a mother and daughter injured by stray gunfire, the other recounting an angry meeting at which Mayor Schmoke was criticized for being indifferent to crime, underscore the frustration and heartbreak of efforts to deal with today's epidemic of violence. City residents are deeply concerned that City Hall isn't doing enough about the problem.

That may be why Mayor Schmoke's suggestion that "the people" themselves must begin to reclaim their streets met with a cool reception. Surely public safety is government's primary responsibility.

Mr. Schmoke undoubtedly was trying to stress that there is no "magic bullet" -- no single, quick or easy solution to the scourge of violent crime. And he is right. The problem is nationwide in scope; it did not arise overnight and won't be solved with the stroke of a pen. But it can be attacked systematically if local officials take the initiative to lead. Here's what needs to be done for starters:

* More police. Community policing is fine but it won't work unless the city hires more police officers. Find the money for them.

* Expand the police department's firearms buy-back program. Mount a concerted effort to press the legislature for a citywide handgun ban.

* Develop alternatives for youth. Steer youngsters away from trouble through summer jobs and year 'round part-time employment. Find ways to staff parks and recreation programs so kids have a viable alternative to the streets. Expand mentoring programs, after-school activities and family counseling services in city schools.

* Public service campaigns. Enlist local radio and TV stations to help discourage youngsters from using drugs and joining gangs. In San Francisco, for example, one station runs a call-in show called "Street Warriors" to counsel kids about gang violence and crime in their neighborhoods.

* Never surrender. Sicily, Italy, shows what happens when local officials give up or give in to thuggery.

We need a long-term strategy to pull communities out of the morass of hopelessness, anger and despair in which so many now find themselves. People are fed up with ineffectual government but will rally if convinced a better future is possible.

And let's have more forums like the NAACP crime summit. Baltimore can't wait for the state or the federal government to solve its problems. City Hall has to lead. Such gatherings may be raucous, but out of them will come a renewed determination to confront the crisis facing this city, and the vision and faith needed to overcome it.

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