Thursday, July 20, 2006

Fenty gets it right: D.C.'s emergency legislation is not going to solve the crime problem

By Nancy Jane Moore

Adrian Fenty moved way ahead of the competition for my vote for Mayor of the District of Columbia on Wednesday when he voted against a so-called "crime emergency" bill that sets a 10 PM curfew for juveniles and adds surveillance cameras to the streets.

According to The Washington Post, Fenty, who represents Ward Four on the City Council and is one of the candidates for the Democratic nomination for mayor in the upcoming September 12 primary, was the only member to oppose the actual legislation, though two other council members disagreed with the declaration of emergency.

It wasn't just that he opposed the bill, but why he opposed it that got my attention. As quoted in the Post, Fenty said:

I think people know that these are not ways to solve crime. At best, we're tinkering around the edges. At worst, we are putting forth that we are doing something about a crime emergency when everyone in this room knows that we are not.

That's dead on. This is cosmetic. It's not going to fix anything.

And it's unfair to kids. Here's the curfew rule, as listed in the Post:

Youths younger than 18 will not be allowed on District streets after 10 p.m. unless they are with a parent, on the way home from work, or attending a civic or church outing.

10 PM? Kids could get in trouble because they went to an 8 PM movie. Or went to a baseball game -- it's pretty rare when a 7:30 baseball game is over in time for people to get home by 10 PM. Plus that exception for church outings galls me -- surely there are other wholesome activities for kids besides religious ones.

I'm not real happy about surveillance cameras either. I think we should all be entitled to a little privacy as we go about our daily lives.

Frankly, I'm not even convinced there's a new crime emergency. What we've actually had is several high-profile crimes in "good" parts of town. There was a nasty murder in Georgetown. Tourists have been robbed on the National Mall. It seems that the thugs aren't confining themselves to attacking poor people in bad neighborhoods anymore. We've had plenty of nasty murders in poor neighborhoods this year without any special action. In fact, far too many of them remain unsolved.

I'm sure we could use more police on the street. And more streetlights, which are probably more effective than cameras at actually preventing crime. But if the problem is really an increase in juvenile crime -- which is what the police chief says -- what we need is something more substantial than a curfew or even more cops. We need vastly better schools, early childhood programs, parenting programs, after school activities of all kinds (arts, sports, homework help), summer jobs, and any number of other programs designed to reach every -- and I do mean every -- child in our community.

Thugs aren't born; they're made. And if we provide all our children -- not just the cute ones, the bright ones, the ambitious ones, and the ones whose parents are savvy enough to get them into the right schools -- with better alternatives, we're going to make fewer thugs.

Yes, all that costs money. But until we're willing to invest long-term in our children, we're going to have a serious juvenile crime program in D.C.

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