The clothes off their backs


It is a sad commentary on our society that some youths have been robbed, assaulted and even killed simply for the clothes on their backs.

One of the latest in coveted apparel is the Starter jacket, an item bearing sports logos that can cost between $70 and $300. Young people want them, sometimes so badly they take them from other people.

Prosecutors in Howard County have wisely decided to get tough on this kind of crime, promising that future cases will be handled in juvenile court. In January, two Howard County youths were attacked and robbed of their Starter jackets, resulting in the arrests of five juveniles and one adult.

It defies common sense that until now such serious crimes as these were being dealt with informally by police and the Department of Juvenile Services.

It is good to see authorities taking more stringent measures. But why focus only on Starter jackets? Whether it be an expensive pair of athletic shoes, gold jewelry or any other possession, stealing from someone should be treated seriously, notwithstanding the age of the perpetrator.

Even so, if Starter jackets are the latest craze, perhaps the focus is justified for now.

The possible penalties seem to us appropriate. Youths who are convicted can face sentences ranging from probation to an 18-month stay at the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School, a detention facility for juveniles in Baltimore County. Howard County has never experienced a death in one of these incidents, and this new approach should help to assure that the county never does.

Having dealt with the criminal, we feel compelled to say something about those who are potential victims. Is it really necessary for a teen-ager to own a $300 jacket? Not that we intend to blame the victim, but part of what causes these crimes to occur is the fact that people invest so much in frivolous status symbols. Parents should discourage their children from this overindulgence, as we are sure many of them do.

Commercialism being what it is, however, kids are still going to be drawn to excesses. When that spills over into robbery, serious prosecution is warranted and necessary.

Said Bobbie Fine, an assistant state's attorney in Howard County who handles juvenile cases, "Maybe they'll think twice now that they're not going to be getting away with it."

Our sentiments exactly.

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