Crime and the Poor

FOLLOWING through on a campaign pledge, President Clinton has presented an anticrime program. Viewers will recognize in it familiar approaches, and a few new ones, to curbing violence in the US.

Mr. Clinton aims to put as many as 100,000 new police officers on America's inner-city beats and highways - 50,000 initially at a cost of $3.4 billion - and to establish a 5,000-member, four-year youth Police Corps (cost: $100,000) whose members would get college scholarships.

The president also wants to push through passage of the 12-year-old "Brady bill" requiring a five-day waiting period for background checks on handgun buyers.

Unfortunately, the Clinton plan also would make the federal death penalty applicable to some 50 offenses more than at present and limit most death-row prisoners to just one habeas corpus appeal.

Also, some closed military bases would be converted to rehabilitation camps for young offenders.

Basically, the president has adopted the anticrime proposal of congressional Democrats, with the Brady bill in the forefront.

Sens. Joseph Biden (D) of Delaware, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Orrin Hatch of Utah, the ranking Republican, want the Brady and habeas corpus bills considered separately from other anticrime legislation so as not to ensnarl less-controversial items in the gun-control debate.

There appears to be some diminution in the negative influence wielded by the National Rifle Association and other gun-control opponents as public awareness of the harm perpetrated by criminals or just irresponsible gun owners grows.

But the slogan often used by gun-control opponents, "Guns don't kill people, people kill people," also should be heeded. Norman Early, president of the National Black Prosecutors Association, has put the situation in sharp perspective. Noting what we all have realized - that crime "has reached epidemic proportions," Mr. Early lauded the Clinton package, but added that it "does not get at the root causes of crime. It does not instill respect in young people. It does not deal with issues like prenatal care , teen-age pregnancies, health care, education problems."

He is right. If those deprived of America's promise can be shown a reason to hope, many more than at present will heed admonitions to obey laws that they now perceive to be perpetuating their deprivation.

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