Homebred terrorism: A poorly aimed gun in the city

Alan Lupo

November 03, 1992|By Alan Lupo

THE subject is terrorism, the homebred variety, so I called the Chicago cops to learn what happened to a 2-year-old boy shot in the head last month with a bullet intended for some street punk who had picked the kid up and used him for a shield.

"Oh, Jonathan Williams recovered," the policewoman said after she had asked for a detailed description of the incident to jog her memory.

You might think that just the mention of such an incident would trigger one's recollection, but she said: "Unfortunately, we've had some little ones who've been shot. That's why you had to tell me the story. From Jan. 1 to Oct. 13, we've had 124 kids under the age of 18 shot and killed."

Violent death is nothing new for the masses of poor, whoever they happen to be, wherever in the world they happen to live and in whatever era fate has assigned them their often short and traumatic lives. It was so in Dickens' time; it is true now. What surely is different is the technology. Had the white street gangs of New York City possessed semiautomatics or speed loaders, the Draft Riot of 1863 would still be going on.

Today's street violence does not sprout from a weakening of our moral fiber or whatever handy knee-jerk label angry commentators wish to resurrect. The key is poverty -- the poverty of wallet and the poverty of spirit. The poorer and more dispirited a family or a neighborhood, the greater the incidence of violence. You do not read of many drive-by shootings in Scituate, Dover or Manchester.

Dominic (Poochie) Mount's life ended one recent night at age 13 because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was walking on Boston's Blue Hill Avenue toward home in a community where parents are afraid to send their kids on an errand, afraid if their kids ask nothing more than to play outside.

Poochie Mount was as much a victim of terrorism as any child in Croatia or Ulster. So, too, was Jonathan Williams in Chicago. So, too, are the immigrant merchants in the Jamaica section of Queens in New York City, where they are trying to make a living, something very difficult when gangs of young punks run rampant through the stores to loot, steal and terrorize.

You want homegrown terrorism? Think of Baltimore, where drug dealers, shooting at each other, hit innocent children with terrifying regularity. Look to New Haven, where last June a 6-year-old was shot in the head as he rode on a school bus, and last February when a 5-year-old was shot in the face as she was riding with her grandmother. Both children lived. But there is a difference between living and surviving.

In none of these cases was the youngster the intended victim. One doubts that makes the families feel better. Indeed, a family would feel even more endangered. The same bullets that shatter bone and cartilage also lay waste to the assumption that if you keep your kids straight, they'll survive.

The punks doing the shooting usually don't qualify for the sharpshooter's medal. They have not taken the safety and marksmanship courses offered by the National Rifle Association. They just buy, steal or borrow the guns and proceed to spray their intended targets. If you happen to be in the spray area, you have just become part of the urban crisis.

Some gun control advocates say the answer is to get all the guns out of circulation. Some gun advocates say thou shalt never touch a hair of their sniperscope cross hairs. The first crowd is being unrealistic; the second, irresponsible.

The nation cries for some kind of effective legislation controlling the sale and shipment of arms, and someday it might happen. But what do endangered citizens do until that day comes? What do we do until our fellow citizens finally conclude that today's expensive social programs prevent tomorrow's even costlier correctional programs?

When society abdicates its social responsibilities, we are left with lousy alternatives.

Some law-abiding adults, such as store owners in crime-ridden neighborhoods, feel they must legally arm themselves. Can others responsibly tell them not to? The NRA, so often irresponsible, may just have it right when it says that if you outlaw guns, only the outlaws will have them.

The outlaws have them, and they are not just six-shooters.

Alan Lupo is a Boston Globe columnist.

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