Real Solutions to Crime

POLLS show that voters are fearful and angry about crime. But how have political candidates responded? With bumper-sticker slogans, each trying to shout ``I'm tough'' louder than the next.

At least this oration has been on a legitimate public concern. But what we've been hearing has been pretty useless. After the election, in a less partisan atmosphere, we need a more substantive discourse.

The media, of course, bear their share of blame. Hard-edged movies and TV dramas fuel unrealistic views of a society more violent than it really is. And some news organizations play up sensational crime stories. Television in particular takes us intimately close to crime: It is easy to echo in our own hearts the anguish, pain, and grief on the screen.

The murders of two small boys in Union, S.C., allegedly killed by their own mother, are one recent example (see below). Media attention also focused last week on another multiple murder, that of an abortion-clinic doctor and his bodyguard in Pensacola, Fla. A jury found Paul Hill guilty and recommended the death penalty.

At this point, the South Carolina slayings seem inexplicable. The Florida murders touch on one of the most divisive topics in public thought. Troubling crimes like these show the need for deeper thinking about crime and better answers. Political candidates who resorted to tired tricks - such as morbid one-upmanship over who would execute more prisoners if elected - have added nothing to the search for real relief from crime.

Today, for the first time, the United States has more than 1 million people in prison, an incarceration rate surpassed only in Russia and 14 times higher than in Japan. The death penalty, once widely considered inhumane, is employed with more and more frequency. Will we abandon a growing portion of our population behind bars without hope of rehabilitation? Are building more prisons and taking more lives by execution the only things to be done to fight crime? Surely not.

In Boston recently a nine-year-old child died when caught in crossfire between teenage gangs. Yet programs in the recent crime bill that would help keep youths off dangerous streets were ridiculed by some in Congress as needless ``pork.'' They want to remove them in the next session.

This newspaper hopes that the death penalty will not be sought against Paul Hill. His warped sense of justice resulted in two tragic and needless deaths; the State of Florida should not add to the toll.

And we hope that a search for real crime-fighting solutions can begin now. They are urgently needed.

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