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A summit on crime in Youngstown due



Published: Tue, September 5, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



Mayor Jay Williams and his police chief, Jimmy Hughes, have attended a national conference on the issue; city residents from the East Side have marched around City Hall to spotlight the issue; and, a peewee football league has fled its South Side field because of the issue.

Violent crime in the city of Youngstown is taking its toll.

Here's how the crime issue is affecting Mayor Williams, who took office in January.

"Every day when I come to work and even on weekends when I'm not at work -- and I think this is true of the police chief, too -- it's my No. 1 priority." In the nine months Williams has been in office, Youngstown has recorded 20 homicides. Some might argue that the situation isn't so bleak because the city had 24 homicides over the same period last year and that it logged 34 killings for 2005.

But the reality is that even 20 is too high, considering that the city's population is below 80,000.

It is clear that a community-wide summit on crime is necessary and timely. Residents are on the frontlines of this crime wave, and if they are expected to be active participants in the war against the gangbangers and other criminals, they should be given the chance to be heard.

The mayor has said he has talked to Greg White, the United States attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, about help from the federal government. White's presence at the summit would send a clear message that Youngstown's pleas have been heard in Washington.

Likewise, officials of the Ohio Attorney General's Office should be invited to attend.

Residents afraid

The Aug. 19 shooting at the peewee football game in the former South High School stadium not only showed how brazen the criminals in the city have become, but illustrated just how afraid residents are of the thugs who have taken over neighborhoods.

Indeed, since the shooting, the mayor, the police chief and other law enforcement officials have urged residents who witnessed the crime to come forward. But although there were several hundred people in the stadium that day, few have been willing to stick their necks out.

"At least provide information confidentially -- it offers us a starting point," Capt. Kenneth Centorame urged, in talking about the general attitude of residents not to get involved in police investigations. "We're just asking that your provide pieces of the puzzle."

Mayor Williams, too, is urging Youngstowners to help the police.

"To a certain extent, this is a community problem and it's going to take a community effort," he said recently.

But residents, whose lives have become sheer hell because of the crimes on the streets, need more than appeals from City Hall to step forward. They need to know that they won't be inviting trouble if they speak up.

A community summit on the issue of crime would go a long way toward assuring these residents that they aren't alone.

During the march by East Side residents, Jackie Adair gave voice to the feelings of many when she said, "I want federal officials to come in here and help us clean up things. This is nothing different than when the Mafia was running things."

It is a fact that organized crime existed for so long in the Mahoning Valley because there was no sense of urgency on the part of law enforcement to crackdown on the mob, a goodly number of government officials were in the pockets of mobsters, and residents just didn't care enough to demand an all-out war on the Mafia.




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