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One more tragic shooting


A two-year-old East Baltimore girl became the latest innocent victim wounded by the young gunmen taking over inner-city streets. Kimberly Williams suffered a pierced right lip and cheek as she took a 9-mm bullet blasted out by a man believed to be firing at other men on the street. She was lucky. The round, fired from a block away, could have done much greater damage.

Witnesses blamed the shooting on the area's blatant drug dealers. Drugs have intensified the violence endemic to the city's neglected areas. Police found 83 vials of cocaine in the house where the suspected shooter had hidden.

One month earlier, Terrika Johnson, age 4, was wounded during a gunfight that erupted near Greenmount Avenue and Biddle Street. Kimberly Williams was shot just a few blocks away from the Eastern Police District on Edison Highway.

Community residents demanded meetings with District Commander Alvin A. Winkler after Terrika was shot, asking heatedly what the police were doing to quell the violence. In answer, Major Winkler presented astounding charts, showing that hundreds of arrests for cocaine, heroin and weapons offenses had been made by city police officers in the worst-hit areas. Still the carnage goes on.

Even the most stepped-up police patrols cannot curtail the drug-dealing that sparks such violence. Hopelessness continues to spawn drug addictions. City drug arrests have skyrocketed -- nearly doubling between 1990 and 1991 -- but still more young people fall into the drug undercurrent. Drugs, sad to say, have become a labor market of last resort. The job market that might offer alternatives to such illicit, danger-ridden employment is simply not there for youths in the poorest neighborhoods. The job-training that might provide ladders out of their bleak surroundings has not reached down to their isolated world.

This cannot continue, for it is a downward spiral that endangers the lives and civil peace of everyone, no matter what neighborhood is home. Los Angeles' violent unrest has delivered a wake-up call to those who have too long ignored the problems of America's urban centers. It is deeply troubling to note that many other violent indicators were already visible, to those inside and outside government who were looking, of just how badly the nation's urban policy has gone awry. High-level attention, to save the Kimberlys and Terrikas as well as the youths racing down the fast track to a dead end in the gutter, is urgently needed.

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