The roots of senseless violence and death run deep in the city

Youngstown’s new police chief, Rod Foley, certainly knew that he wasn’t walking into any bed of roses when he took the job.

But five separate homicides over a period of three weeks is more than anyone would have bargained for.

Homicides, unfortunately and tragically, have become far too big a part of Youngstown’s daily life over the last two decades. A half century ago, Youngstown’s most infamous murders were part of mob wars and often involved the detonation of bombs attached to the ignitions of automobiles.

For a period of time in the ’90s, the city registered 50 or 60 homicides a year — an average of more than one a week. Much of that carnage was attributable to a new generation of gang wars that focused not on the control of gambling, but on the sale of drugs.

In this recent spate of violence, motives were less clear., ranging from grudges, love triangles and, yes, drug dealing.

But all of these murders — today, 20 years ago and 50 years ago — have one thing in common, a lack of respect for life. In each case, the killer was willing to put his own interests, whatever they might be, above the right of someone else to live.

An illustration of this wanton disregard for others can be seen in one particularly poignant detail of the Oct. 8 murder of Tequon J. Sharpe, 20, who was shot in the head while his 10-month-old daughter was in the house. She was found more than 12 hours later, crying beside his body.

Violent death is never pretty, but some people appear to go out of their way to make it more horrifying.

First response

Homicide, like poverty, will always be with us — and there’s more than a casual connection between the two, but that’s an editorial for another day. For now, the immediate need is to put a stop to a spate of killings before it evolves into an epidemic.

In the short run, that translates into a return to the zero tolerance policies that were used in prior years when the level of gun violence became absolutely intolerable.

The department conducted a sweep over the weekend with the cooperation of the Ohio State Highway Patrol, and there’s no reason there shouldn’t be more of those. Gov . John Kasich pledged state support for a crackdown on violence when he was in Youngstown in January. Local and state officials have also worked with the U.S. Attorney in Cleveland in the past, and will again.

Those types of initiatives will help. On another front, the courts must do more to send convicted felons to prison and to see to it that they serve their sentences. The courts and the department of corrections are looking for ways to cut prison overcrowding, but felons, especially repeat offenders, belong behind bars.

Starting young

No matter how conscientious the police and the courts may be, however, they can only instill fear of apprehension and punishment. They cannot instill the basic respect for other people that is lacking in those who carry guns and apparently see nothing wrong in pulling the trigger.

There may already be a sizable part of a lost generation, wandering the city without a moral compass. But mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers should resolve today to instill in those young enough to be saved a basic understanding that violence and guns are not an answer to anything. If they don’t, they will inevitably be feeling the pain felt today by the loved ones of those killed in recent weeks. Or they may know the special pain of the families of those convicted of murder, who can look forward to someone they love spending wasted decades behind bars.

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