October 12, 2011 12:31:00 PM
Most local media outlets carried the story of the strong-arm house robbery several weeks ago, but for me it was very personal. While not an immediate member of my family, the victim has worked with my father's law firm for years and is loved by my family as if she were a member. So, when the leader of the gang of thugs pushed through the door, face covered with a bandana and hand brandishing a pistol, and let his minions in to attack, he attacked my family as well.
"Sit down," he barked to her. "Where is the money," he asked. He pointed to her purse and the coin jar, and told her to lay face down on the floor, gun at head, while they took valuables: TV, computer, purse. There was even one item stolen of sentimental value, worth nothing to a thief, but invaluable to her: a case made by her deceased husband.
Both my parents served as City Judge in Columbus, obviously at different times, during the late 1980's and early 1990's, and I recently asked them their thoughts about the recent spike in violent crimes. Both recalled that during the several years they were City Judge there was not a single murder in the City. Violent crime was rare. Then, lawyers mockingly called it "drug court" instead of City Court. Burglaries, embezzlements and non-violent thefts tended to be the crimes of choice then, but by the late 1990's the violence started to set in and it continues today.
Crime is at least as old as Cain killing Abel, so there is nothing new about it. But something new can be said about its nature today. It seems the criminals are getting younger, the violence more gratuitous, the perpetrator more callous; callous enough in fact to break into a home late at night and rob a woman living alone at gun point.
I wish I had a magic prescription to return to the days of rare violence: I can't. But I do know this: accountability rests with adults. Parents can't allow disrespect for people and property to gestate in young people and refuse to fight against social norms that glamorize misbehavior. Second, we must provide outlets of activities for young males. Young men are going to have gangs, one way or another. The only question is whether the adults will organize them with productive activity or allow criminal misfits to do it. Finally, the legal system has to punish with certainty and swiftness - in proportion to the offense and with hope of reform. This will be a powerful teacher.
Yet, we must remember there is the elusive quality that is more powerful than punishment, and we desperately need more of in our citizens if we want to stop crime over the long term: Character. When a young person has character, he or she takes pride in his or her community and respects the adults around them for fear of shaming himself and his family. I believe any step towards this new paradigm would be the strongest deterrent to crime.
Scott Colom is a local attorney.
1. Our View: Finding a successor for Mr. Lewis DISPATCH EDITORIALS
2. Lynn Spruill: Universal language LOCAL COLUMNS
3. Ask Rufus: Coming home at Christmas LOCAL COLUMNS
4. Michael Gerson: For a politics of repair NATIONAL COLUMNS
5. Dana Milbank: Marco Rubio's fury NATIONAL COLUMNS