Ending violence up to community

May 08, 2000|By Catherine E. Pugh

WHILE WE bicker over the confirmation of our next police commissioner, it is my belief that we are missing the boat.

When Acting Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris is confirmed and takes on the monumental task of trying to reduce Baltimore's crime, it should be noted that the problems we face will not disappear and the murder rate will not drop overnight.

According to the Baltimore Police plan, it will take three years to significantly reduce the murder rate. The problems we face in our city are bigger than that: the decay of moral values and the lack of a value of life among those who choose to pick up guns and kill people to resolve their disputes.

I was speaking with a neighbor who reminded me that there was a time when people got angry over a misunderstanding, or lack of respect or loss of a love interest that they settled their differences by engaging in a fist fight - and that was bad enough.

Drawing blood with a punch in the nose once was considered severe punishment. Today, because of the low value placed on a life, the settling of differences means picking up a gun and shooting someone, which more times than we care to acknowledge means death.

Teen-agers who have watched far too much TV, and many who have become involved in gang activity and drug trafficking, believe that to protect their territories against anyone who dares cross their boundaries, a gang-style killing with a bullet to the head is the way to send their message of intolerance.

Domestic violence and crimes of passion in which couples engage in heated arguments have also ended in death. For some reason, the decision is made that the only way to solve an argument or cure a broken heart is to hurt the person who has caused the pain by pickingup a gun, shooting and killing him or her.

It is difficult for me to understand how the police can end this kind of gun violence, especially domestic violence and crimes of passion. Gang-style killings that occur at the drop of a hat or the crossing of a boundary also raise grave concerns.

I believe the way to solve this kind of violence begins with dialogue.

What our communities must understand is that this violence is not occurring out of anger toward one race or another. Blacks are not killing whites and whites are not killing blacks. In black communities, blacks are killing blacks. In white communities, whites are killing whites.

In Baltimore, a predominately African-American city, we are experiencing an alarming rate of gun violence in the black community. Of the 300 murders that occurred in our city last year, 273 wereby black people killing black people.

What is happening in our society, in which streams of young people are on our corners with nothing to do? Instead of suspending our troubled youth from school, we should have programs that send them to school to challenge their wit and intellect, to encourage them to become doctors, lawyers, builders, electricians or business people rather than drug dealers and gang-bangers.

This violence is occurring because of moral decay, lack of self-esteem and the low value placed on life.

The challenge is for leadership to begin the dialogue about why there is such a low value placed on life in our communities and how to curb this anger and end the violence. Churches, social organizations and community groups and government agencies should convene conferences and parents should be allowed to express their frustrations with troubled youth in a setting that can offer them assistance. Young people prone to violent behavior should be mentored.

Gun violence is not just a police problem but a community problem that will require a concerted effort from all of us.

Why do people kill so easily, some without remorse? The challenge is not for us to sit back in hopes the police will lower our murder rate but - as a community - to find the answers and devise corrective solutions that include creating economically viable communities.

Catherine E. Pugh is a member of the Baltimore City Council from the 4th District.

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