Let's get our act together

Local activists show it's up to us to create the kind of community we want

ESPN recently aired a wonderful documentary on the short life and tragic death of Chicago high school basketball star Benjamin Wilson Jr., who was shot down by a street thug in 1994. A scout who had spotted Michael Jordan’s talent before he was a star was quoted as saying Wilson was right up there with him.

After the outrage, a grieving city presented the mayor with a city-block-long petition to crack down on guns.

Since then, gun violence and deaths have only skyrocketed, particularly in Chicago. This year, the Windy City’s murder rate is said to be triple that of New York’s and double that of Los Angeles’.

We would welcome a crackdown on illegal guns anywhere, anytime. Augusta has been home to several of the nation’s most effective and watched gun stings in recent years. But even without such efforts, all the guns in the world won’t commit a single crime. They need thugs and feral youths for that.

And man, are America’s cities producing them.

Here in Augusta, we appreciate and support the grassroots efforts of Harrisburg residents to reduce crime. Several dozen citizens met recently to outline a strategy, which will include tracking and posting suspicious vehicles and license plates on the Internet; citizen patrols; self-defense classes and more.

They’re even planning to cut down a tree Monday that’s used as a waypost for ne’er-do-wells.

Absolutely! We need to work in conjunction with local law enforcement, certainly. But these folks, led by activists such as Woody Merry and Lori Davis, are showing us by example that creating the kind of communities we want in this country is up to us. Though government everywhere always requires prodding to do its part, there’s only so much officials in a free country can do.

The rest is up to us.

The Chronicle would simply echo the caution issued by resident Susan Rabon, who, herself, has been a crime victim: “The citizens need to empower themselves, but we need to go about it carefully.”

She could not be more right. We saw in Florida, in the Trayvon Martin shooting case, what can happen when a citizen with minimal training or law enforcement expertise is playing cop.

But that said, we encourage the rest of Augusta to not only support our friends in Harrisburg, but to export any of their successful strategies to other parts of town.

More importantly, we should all stand with the people of Harrisburg by coming together to formulate a comprehensive community solution to the kind of lawlessness that makes people afraid to walk their own neighborhoods.

That means trying to get at the source, which is the thugs – not just the guns they use. And it means the involvement of not just law enforcement, but churches, schools, businesses, civic clubs and more.

Once and for all, we need to have an open, honest and maybe even painful dialogue about how it is that we’re producing so many lawless creeps. While treating the symptoms, let’s also try to get at the disease.

Doesn’t a lot of it, if not all of it, come down to parenting and families?

And doesn’t society’s tolerance for, and even encouragement of, any kind of behavior just fan the flames of our own destruction? The no-rules, no-stigma promiscuity, the out-of-wedlock births, the dissolution of the two-parent family, the rabid pursuit of self-gratification, the mocking of traditional values, the abandonment of God, faith and church?

The type of humility, restraint and discipline we used to teach our young as a matter of routine – and which you still see today in the military and in highly successful families and other institutions – is cackled at in today’s news and entertainment media. Such values today are considered old-fashioned, stiff, oppressive, even kooky.

Instead, the media worship at the altar of anything goes, in the mega-church of If It Feels Good Do It. And then they wonder what’s wrong.

We recently met a couple who actually pledged not to even kiss until their wedding day. They recognize the ridicule they get. And, while maybe a bit extreme for many, their pathway is nonetheless a sound one. And you can bet they, and their children, won’t be prowling the streets of Harrisburg looking for trouble.

Nor, sadly, are they likely to live there unless we get our act together.

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