Owning the problem

November 26, 2006

A shoot-out with gangland implications at the Westfield Annapolis mall may have lacked some of the shock value that attended recent gun violence in Amish country and schools in Colorado and Wisconsin, but not by much.

Last weekend's wounding of two teenagers and an off-duty Secret Service agent prompted headlines around the world because such things are not expected to happen in a suburban gathering place outside a small-town state capital.

What Annapolis has learned since then, though, is that the confrontation was very much homegrown and long in the making. If there is any good news, it's that this public eruption of a dispute allowed to fester unchecked may prompt the community to do what's necessary to avoid a recurrence.

What's necessary is far more than the initial impulse to tighten security. Stationing more police at malls or schools only treats a symptom. It's no cure.

County Executive Janet S. Owens and the aide she detailed to work on this issue, long-time Annapolis activist Carl O. Snowden, have the correct instinct: The teenage rivalries on display in the mall shooting need to be addressed on a variety of fronts by all elements of the community. As Mr. Snowden put it, the schools, police, churches and residents all need to "take ownership of the problem" for it to be resolved.

Details of the mall incident are still under investigation, but police said it stemmed from earlier fights at Annapolis High School between students who live in or are associated with two of the city's 10 public housing developments. The Secret Service agent came upon one group of six or so assaulting a teen linked to a different neighborhood. When the agent intervened, he was shot in the leg and a 16-year-old student was also wounded. The agent returned fire at his assailant, hitting him twice in the upper body.

Javaugh N. Adams, 18, was charged Wednesday with attempted murder in the shooting of the agent and the 16-year-old. For him, the chance for any sort of normal life is probably gone. But the scores of officials and residents who turned out for a venting session Tuesday night want to reach youngsters long before they get to that point.

They discussed integrating conflict resolution in school curriculums starting with kindergarten, launching gun amnesty programs to reduce the huge stock of accessible firearms, expanding recreational opportunities for teens and helping them find jobs.

Whether anything comes of it will depend on those who attended as well as their neighbors to follow through. If the shock of this violence simply wears off, more lives are likely to be lost - literally as well as figuratively.

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