Here's a party-pooper topic at Clinton inaugural: crime


December 30, 1992|By ROGER SIMON

If Bill Clinton shows up at Kurt Schmoke's pre-inaugural party at the Convention Center on Jan. 18, he will be surrounded by more than 240 American mayors, all of whom want something from him.

This could reason enough for Clinton to skip the bash -- he has four fund raisers in Washington the same day and about the only way you can get a politician away from a fund raiser is with a crowbar -- but I am betting Clinton shows up nonetheless.

He is, after all, the first president in a while with a real urban policy -- Republican presidents aren't as interested in urban policy because most big cities are Democratic -- and coming to Baltimore to press the flesh with mayors would be taken as a sign of his commitment.

And if Clinton does show up and wants to pick a topic of conversation that every mayor in the place is sure to know a lot about, he could pick homicide.

Not exactly a party topic, I admit. But look at how universal a theme it is:

As I am sure you know, Baltimore set a homicide record this year. But did you know that Little Rock set one last year?

As did Anchorage, Dallas, Phoenix, San Diego, Milwaukee, Jackson, Miss., New Haven, Conn., Chattanooga, Tenn., Colorado Springs, Colo., Charlotte, N.C., and Rochester, N.Y.

And what do these cities have in common? Nothing. Which is why the problem is so terrifying.

It is used to be taken as gospel that increased drug use, especially the use of crack cocaine, was a cause of increased violence in our cities.

Today, experts are not so sure. In some cities crack use has gone down while the homicide rate has continued to climb.

Now some say it is easy access to guns, especially semiautomatic weapons, that is causing the homicide boom. Bullets are no longer merely fired; they are sprayed. But if the linkage of guns and homicides is accurate, the problem is even more serious than we think.

"If the theory of gun stock availability is correct, there is no way we can turn the corner," Lawrence Sherman, president of the Crime Control Institute, told the Washington Post last year. "Absent massive programs for seizing illegal weapons or an effective buy-back [program], I don't see any way we can get the number of guns down. . . . And that means we can't get the number of homicides down."

But that is a pessimistic view, and mayors and presidents are not al

lowed to be pessimistic.

The problem they face in getting the murder rate down, however, makes other problems -- improving housing, for

example -- look puny.

Not long ago, the Justice Department concluded a nine-year study on the chances of an individual becoming a victim of violent crime in America. This was based on interviews with 101,000 people aged 12 and over and included crimes not reported to the police.

The findings: 83 percent of all Americans will be the victim of a violent crime during their lifetime.

One in every 133 Americans will become a murder victim, one in every 12 women will be the victim of rape or attempted rape.

And when you include non-violent crimes (theft and attempted theft), the conclusion is staggering:

Ninety-nine percent of all Americans will become a crime victim.

Last year's homicide rate was the highest in a decade. In the 1960s, the rate was about half of what it is now. And the number of killings in America is increasing faster than the increase in population.

But maybe the same thing occurs to you when you read stories about crime that occurs to the experts. Stuart A. Scheingold, author of "The Politics of Law and Order: Street Crime and Public Policy," put it this way:

"Street crime is conducted by people without talent or training and arrayed against these outcasts is a veritable army of trained professionals back by committed political leaders and an aroused public.

"Common sense tells us that it should be no contest and so when crime continues to flourish we become frustrated and angry."

The party that Kurt Schmoke will host for the nation's mayors in a few weeks may not exactly be a gathering of America's best and brightest.

But it is a group of committed, talented professionals who, along with the president-elect, want to take back the streets of America.

It's not going to be an easy fight, but it ought to be a good one. And we all have a stake in who wins.

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