A complacency shattered

June 12, 1995

Howard County was victimized by random violence eight days ago. The shooting of two furniture store employees by masked gunmen during a daylight robbery last Sunday riveted the community and inflamed fears. If the reaction wasn't as great as that elicited by the horrific death and carjacking of scientist Pam Basu nearly three years ago, it was nevertheless one of those crimes that felt as if it had been perpetrated on an entire community.

What made this act resonate so? Precisely because it was so senseless.

It made people feel exposed and vulnerable. Crime statistics may prove otherwise, but the recent robbery was another event eroding residents' confidence in the safety of their surroundings.

Citizens want to know where we go from here. Even a heightened state of alarm seems an insufficient antidote in this case. The victims did everything police advise people to do, but were shot nonetheless. Approached as they were leaving the Scan furniture store on Columbia's Gerwig Lane by two men wearing ski masks, the employees complied by returning inside and attempting to open the store's safe. But an alarm apparently frightened the burglars. They opened fire, hitting one employee, 37 years old, in the back and the other, 24, in the chest. Thankfully, both survived the brutal attack.

Many unanswered questions remain. Why would robbers target a furniture store where little cash is likely to be on hand? Why would they shoot compliant victims after being warned the alarm would sound? Even if residents in a metropolitan area can grasp the fact that crime is occurring in their midst, they can't comprehend such incredibly stupid and ruthless acts.

Having long enjoyed a relative sense of safety, many Columbians now share a sense of complacency shattered. A natural reaction might be to wonder whether some other community might provide greater security -- the kinds of questions that led many to locate in suburbs such as Howard County in the first place. But the knowledge that no place can guarantee safety is just as apt to add to people's growing sense of helplessness.

Restoring community confidence is perhaps the most difficult job public officials face. Given the situation, the process needs to begin now.

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