No safety in sight

September 02, 1994|By Mona Charen

THE CONGRESS of the United States has brought forth a crime bill. Now all of us can sleep better at night, right?

Wrong. The federal government has undertaken to spend $30 billion of our dollars (what ever happened to deficit reduction?) to fight not crime but the appearance of political indifference to crime.

That's what the bill was about. It was an opportunity for the therapeutic set (liberal Democrats) to portray themselves as Clint Eastwood. President Clinton went so far as to cast the struggle as one between the forces of the National Rifle Association and those of the police and "honest, law-abiding citizens."

That was the posture the president adopted because poll after poll has shown that the public is more concerned about crime than any other issue. But what did the crime bill actually contain? Too much carrot and too little stick.

Liberals look at the high crime rates of the inner city -- the incidence of crime is up to 30 times higher in inner cities than in suburbs -- and see lost youngsters wandering into crime because they lack good jobs, good role models and good programs. They conclude that the federal government should intervene with job-training programs, mentor programs. They apparently believe that all abusive, drug-abusing families need is a few more visits per year by a social worker to become the Cosby family. That's the philosophy behind family preservation programs that received an extra boost from the crime bill.

That approach is bound to fail. Liberals are right that inner-city kids fall into crime because their families (such as they are) and their environments encourage it. But they are naive to think that federal programs urging kids to stay drug free, or to resist gangs, are the answer.

One solution to inner-city crime that won't be found in the crime bill was suggested by Professor John DiIulio of Princeton: dead-bolt locks for the doors of housing projects. Those who can afford to, Mr. DiIulio writes, have long since "hard-targeted" their homes and cars. One of the reasons the poor are vulnerable is that they cannot afford security measures.

One thing liberals and conservatives can agree upon is that the most heart-breaking victims of crime are children. But what liberal advocates of "family preservation" refuse to acknowledge that many children in America today become victims of their own parents.

Conservatives shrink from this reality as well, but for different reasons. They shudder at the idea of the state intervening to remove children from their families and conjure up nightmare scenarios in which storm troopers arrive to cart off little Johnny because Dad forced the kid to do his chores.

There are more than 400,000 children in foster care today. All have been abused or neglected to a shocking degree (or else the social workers, who are loath to remove children even in the face of clear abuse, would not have removed them). The best anti-crime program for kids like them and for the thousands more who are living in desperate situations with incompetent or abusive mothers is the termination of parental rights. That step, if taken more readily when children are endangered, would free them up for adoption into loving homes. It would halt a continuing crime -- the abuse of these children -- and prevent future crimes as these kids learned love and care, instead of fury and violence.

But it can only happen if both liberals and conservatives give up their fuzzy fantasies -- liberals that the state can cure family pathology and conservatives that the state has no obligation to protect children from their parents.

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist.

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