Why the Killing Goes On

November 09, 1993

By the end of last weekend the number of homicides commited in Baltimore during 1993 had climbed to 300 -- well on the way to a new record. By coincidence, Washington, D.C., experienced a similarly bloody weekend, with a total of 14 homicides that brought the number of murders commited in the District this year to 400.

The epidemic of urban violence has brought demands for radical solutions. Six years ago, Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke called for a national debate on decriminalizing drugs. In Washington, Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly recently asked the White House for authorization to call up the National Guard to deal with the crisis on her city's streets.

There is no single cause for the homicidal violence engulfing our cites, and no magic bullet. Underlying all is the pervasive hopelessness and despair of large numbers of impoverished young people trapped in the inner city with few prospects for either decent education or meaningful employment. Sociologists RTC describe the condition as "anomie," a mood of perpetual desperation in which the socially approved routes to success are blocked and none of the traditional rules applies. This is the cause of the "quiet riots" that are destroying the urban social fabric in various ways, from school dropouts, teen pregnancy and disintegrating families to drug violence, murder and mayhem.

Still, the problem has clearly defined elements that must be addressed. The proliferation of handguns made possible by weak, ineffectual state gun control laws has vastly increased the lethal nature of disputes. Tough national gun control would cut down the carnage, though saying so in the present climate is like spitting into the wind.

Such is the public outrage against the violence in urban America that an emphasis on tougher enforcement seems inevitable. The suffering may be most intense in poor neighborhoods where drug punks shoot up constantly (in both meanings of that phrase) but in suburban America feelings of insecurity are spreading like the plague. Mr. Schmoke's decriminalization idea may have merit as a long-term measure. But for now, as the new Senate crime bill reflects, the public rightly demands a crackdown.

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