Making a federal case of street crime

August 10, 1993

The old definition of a conservative as a liberal who has been mugged comes to mind on hearing Lynne Anne Battaglia's remarks upon being nominated to be United States attorney for Maryland. Ms. Battaglia said she would make crime in Baltimore her top priority. By crime she made it clear she meant street crime, crimes of violence and the sort of threatening activity "that deters people from living there."

She was stabbed during a robbery attempt when she was living in Bolton Hill. Subsequently, after the birth of a son, the family moved to Columbia. "We had to put up bars on the windows in Bolton Hill, and I didn't want my son to grow up that way," she recalled recently.

No mothers want their children to grow up that way, but by the thousands they do in Baltimore and other such big cities. If the federal government can help make inner city Baltimore (and Bolton Hill) as safe as Columbia, it should.

Traditionally street crime has not been a high priority item for U.S. attorneys. Ms. Battaglia is not the only important person to suggest recently that it should become one. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, another urban liberal Democrat from a big city (San Francisco) made a point of urging a Clinton administration nominee for high office to give urban crime a high priority. The nominee was Attorney General Janet Reno, a former local crime fighter in Miami, and she said she would.

With all this going on, and the public clamor for safe streets rising, surely Ms. Reno, Ms. Battaglia and others who now have the responsibility can shift priorities in federal law enforcement away from the glamour issues -- organized crime, bank robberies, civil rights, political corruption, the environment, among others -- to the mundane world of street criminality. All those areas deserve federal prosecutorial attention, too, but crime and the fear of it are indeed killing cities.

The federal government has a secondary role to play here. Protecting citizens from hoodlums and prosecuting hoodlums when they break the law are primarily local responsibilities. But the federal law enforcement community can be involved and influential thanks to gun control laws -- existing and pending -- among others, if it has the will. We applaud Ms. Battaglia, Ms. Reno, Senator Feinstein and the others of their ilk who are demonstrating that liberals can be just as hard-headed about crime as conservatives. On this issue, liberals and conservatives must be in the fight together.

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