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Native Intelligence
Political expedience won't end crime
(Published April 8, 2002)

By DIANA WINTHROP

In the past few months there has been a rash of gang violence and homicides that appears to be centered in Councilman Jim Grahamís Ward One.

A frustrated Graham Ė who was quoted recently as saying, "This is beginning to feel like Dodge City" Ė is frantically looking for ways to diminish the potential for violence in his ward.

The councilman has met with city and neighborhood officials, the business community and with the wardís school board member, Julie Mikuta, and D.C. Public Schools staff to seek ways of quelling some of the violence.

As a result, Graham says he is now looking for additional public or private money to expand summer school programs. He says he thinks it is terrible to have school-age children without meaningful engagement this summer, and he praised the school system for operating a quality program last summer.

DCPS Chief Operating Of-ficer Steven Seleznow says he welcomes Grahamís effort in these fiscally difficult times. Seleznow says the school system has the programs and staff in place to immediately double the number of children who might be served this summer, if additional funding can be identified, rather than limiting summer school to the 10,000 at-risk children who are now expected to attend.

Graham acknowledges it wonít be easy to find additional funds and mentions "reprogramming" as the easiest method of finding money.

Now, I do not want to slam Graham for his effort. I think anyone who is willing to find more money to ensure the operation of enrichment programs for our children is heroic.

However, what troubles me is his simplistic approach to a terribly complex problem. That is often what is wrong with too many of our elected officials.

Expanding summer school is a good idea, even a great one. But will it reduce the current level of violent crime in Grahamís ward? No Ė and he knows it. But Grahamís idea will look good to his crime-weary constituents and others. After all, it looks as if he is "taking action" to quash violent crime.

Graham is by no means a mental midget. His impressive resume of public service far outweighs all of his council colleagues. It even includes a stint as a clerk to former U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren.

I may be asking too much. It may even be unfair to expect Graham to come up with any solutions that arenít simplistic.

The problem is that simplistic solutions "sell" to voters, and Graham is up for re-election this year. Simple always sells in an election year.

I guess what bothers me most is not that Graham is selling "simple." It really bugs me that we seem to throw in the towel on kids in this city once they reach their teenage years. It is so much easier to obtain positive results with young kids in early childhood education and summer enrichment programs than teenagers or young adults, who already are damaged and increasingly feel they have no future.

It isnít sexy or easy to campaign on long-term complex solutions that may even see some teenagers backslide. Graham says that as soon as young people have their finger on the trigger of a semi-automatic weapon, we have lost them. I suggest that Graham talk to the youth gang task force at DCPS.

There are young people we should not give up on. They may be harder to reach. They may need jobs and recreational opportunities, but Ė more importantly Ė they need a place to talk with adults who will listen.

Graham admits that education is not his area of expertise on the council.

Although Grahamís attempt to help DCPS enrichment and summer school programs is laudable, how about an equal effort for the tougher kids? Summer school programs wonít help the kids who are unlikely to show up for classes. The results may not be as quick or obvious as they are with kids who already follow the rules Ė but they are just as important.

And yes, Jim, it will be hard to campaign for re-election on the issue while there is still violent crime in your ward. But we all will be better for it.

Copyright 2002, The Common Denominator