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When murder becomes a way of life, a city can’t survive

Published: Wed, June 23, 2010 @ 12:00 a.m.

There have been other bloody weekends in Youngstown, even bloodier weekends during those years in the 1990s when Youngstown averaged more than a homicide a week.

Still, this past weekend, the third in June, stands out not just for the number of the dead and wounded, but for the depraved indifference shown by the various shooters.

The victims include a 17-year-old girl shot multiple times, apparently by a spurned lover; her new boyfriend was wounded and likely left for dead.

A Youngstown man was shot at close range in the face in Campbell and a West Chalmers man died of wounds suffered at his home.

And then there was a 7-year-old girl wounded as she sat in a car on Logan Avenue that was sprayed with bullets from a passing vehicle. A luckier 1-year-old boy escaped injury in a similar drive-by shooting on Lauderdale Avenue.

The circumstances were different. The victims were of different ages and genders. The motives are varied and, in some cases, undetermined.

But there is a common thread that ties all of this mayhem together, and that is a devolving culture in which gun violence becomes almost casual and early death is accepted as a way of life.

And this culture will not only kill people, it will kill a city.

Government response

Politicians and police can do little to change a culture — that is the job of other institutions such as schools, churches, community organizations and families — but policing can reduce the opportunities for violence.

That’s done through zero-tolerance enforcement up and down the city’s streets. Cars with nonfunctional lights, blacked-out windows, stereos blasting in violation of noise ordinances, even drivers without seat belts should be stopped routinely. Police must use any legal means at their disposal to make it more difficult for armed thugs to go in search of their prey.

Blockwatches are an important link between law abiding citizens and the police, especially regarding the operation of drug houses. Drug trafficking is at the root of much of a city’s violence.

The office of Steven Dettelbach, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, had already pledged to help Youngstown authorities mount another crackdown this summer aimed at getting guns of the streets and pursuing longer prison sentences for criminals who use guns. That can’t begin too soon.

Such efforts have worked in the past to dramatically reduce that number of homicides in the city. Violent deaths were more than halved between 1996, when there were 63, and 1999, when there were 30. But 30 in a city of 70,000 people is still an obscene statistic, unworthy of a civilized community.

The ultimate responsibility

Police forces can do their best to stanch violence through increased patrols and vigilance to the extent that city, state and federal budgets allow. But young Youngstown men will continue to kill other men, women and children — and that is the prevailing demographic — as long as too many Youngstown mothers and fathers are more willing to bury their sons and daughters than to parent them.

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