The Clothes Off Their Backs HOWARD COUNTY

March 22, 1993

A sad commentary on our society is that some youths have been robbed, assaulted -- even killed -- for the clothes on their backs.

One of the latest in coveted apparel items is the Starter jacket, apparel bearing sports logos that can cost between $70 and $300. Youths want them, sometimes so badly they take them from other people.

Howard County prosecutors have decided to get tough on this kind of crime, promising that future cases will be handled in juvenile court. In January, two Howard youths were attacked and robbed of their Starter jackets. Five juveniles and an adult were arrested.

The fact that until now such serious crime was being dealt with informally by police and the Department of Juvenile Services defies common sense. It is good to see more stringent measures being taken. But why focus only on Starter jackets? Whether it be an expensive pair of athletic shoes, gold jewelry or any other possession, stealing from someone should be treated seriously, notwithstanding the age of the perpetrator.

Still, if Starter jackets are the latest craze, perhaps the focus is justified for now.

The possible penalties appear appropriate. Youths who are convicted can face sentences ranging from probation to an 18-month stay at the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School, a detention facility for juveniles in Baltimore County. Howard County has never experienced a death in one of these incidents, and it is hoped that this new approach will assure that the county never does.

Having dealt with the criminal, we feel compelled to say something about those who are potential victims. Is it really necessary for a teen-ager to own a $300 jacket? Not that we intend to blame the victim, but part of what causes these crimes to occur is the fact that people invest too much in frivolous status symbols. Parents should discourage their children from this overindulgence, as we are sure many of them do.

Commercialism being what it is, however, kids are still going to be drawn to excesses. When that spills over into robbery, serious prosecution is warranted and necessary.

Said Bobbie Fine, an assistant state's attorney who handles juvenile cases, "Maybe they'll think twice now that they're not going to be getting away with it." Our sentiments exactly.

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