Sunday, May 4, 2003

Getting to the broken heart of murders

If grief could be compressed by the pressure of crushing sorrow, it could cut glass like a diamond. If it could be brought to a boil by red-hot anger and steamed and distilled, it would taste like raw, cheap whiskey.

If it could be captured in a picture, it would look like the undiluted anguish that filled the room at a Public Safety Forum on Tuesday night, as grieving parents of murdered children pleaded for an end to the violence in Cincinnati.

At a similar meeting last year, only a couple of brave mothers stood to tell how their sons were shot and killed for no sane reason. This year, the sadness section stretched for nearly three full rows of parents.

This is how we measure the murder and mayhem on our streets. We have numbers in the paper. Yellow crime-scene tape on the sidewalk. And a steadily increasing crowd of mothers and fathers who add their pain to a river of tears.

Tom Jones, who organized the meeting at Children's Hospital, said Cincinnati is on track for 90 murders this year. "This is totally unacceptable anywhere," he said. "We're all here for one reason: crime. Crime has no color. There is no race to crime."

Nearly 200 people said "Amen" with applause.

Speakers told the crowd that the same kind of violence in middle-class Hyde Park or Mount Lookout would not be tolerated. True.

Two years wasted

They said Cincinnati has to stop wasting time and dollars on programs that don't work, and stop spinning its wheels in talk-a-thon "collaboratives" and take action. The answer is obvious: Hire more cops and support the cops on the street.

Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen said people will someday look back on these times and wonder, "What the heck was going on in the city of Cincinnati in 2003? We are spending millions on monitors and collaboratives to put handcuffs on our police when there has never been any objective evidence that the police are the problem, and when there is literally a slaughter in the streets."

County Commissioner Phil Heimlich said the city is forcing cops to fill out racial profiling reports that have wasted 16,000 hours - more than two years of wasted police time - so that 91,000 forms can collect dust.

A rabbi and others said parents need to raise kids better to stop producing "young assassins."

And then the parents of murdered kids spoke up. They went directly to the broken heart of the problem.

"Let's be honest," said Carla McNeal, whose son, Jeremy Long, 18, was killed on July 23, 2001. "It's our African-American children who are being murdered and slaughtered by our African-American children. And you think because your child has not been killed yet, you don't have to stand up and be part of this."

'I didn't see anything'

The parents told about the tragedies that shattered their worlds. The law enforcement officials vented their frustration about killings that happen in front of 50 or 100 witnesses in broad daylight, and nobody will admit they've seen anything.

This is incomprehensible. It's something we might expect in Saddam's Baghdad. Not here.

Jones, a council candidate and leader of the Community Public Safety Advocate Group, urged everyone to watch and report crimes.

After the meeting, he said, two witnesses to a murder came forward and said they would cooperate with police.

It's a start.

If diamonds can come from the pit of a coal mine, hope can come from tragic murders. The message Tuesday night was as true as grief: Yes, you are your brother's keeper.

E-mail or call 768-8301.

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