There was something incongruous about NAACP Director Benjamin Chavis' teaming up with Minister Louis Farrakhan earlier this week to mediate another "truce" among rival youth gangs in Chicago at just the moment Baltimore City State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms was warning of a growing gang menace right here at home. Why go all the way to the Windy City when the problem is staring you in the face where you live?
Mr. Simms said signs of gang activity are increasing in Baltimore. The juvenile unit in the prosecutor's office found that youngsters involved in crimes who claim affiliation with one of the city's neighborhood "crews" tend to be repeat offenders. "We've been looking at the problem here for a year now, and we're seeing the connections," Mr. Simms said. "There are gangs in this city."
Police officials dispute Mr. Simms' characterization of the violent youth activity as the work of gangs, arguing those involved are fewer in number and less sophisticated organizationally than their counterparts elsewhere. Still, there's no disputing the increasingly violent nature of youth crime, much of it fueled by competition over drug turfs, which has put some neighborhoods virtually under siege. That is why the department's cautious disclaimers sound like quibbling.
Mr. Chavis has made reducing gang violence a priority during his tenure at the NAACP. He has helped negotiate several "truces" among rival factions so far this year. But the effectiveness of such efforts remains open to debate. Some law enforcement officials suspect the gangs are simply using the NAACP to buy respectability while continuing to engage in illegal activities. To the extent the drug trade fuels the violence, any so-called "truce" is apt to be both highly unstable and short-lived.
The same might be said of the chilly peace forged last month between mainstream civil rights leaders like Mr. Chavis and Jesse Jackson with Mr. Farrakhan. The fact that Mr. Jackson failed to show up at a scheduled joint appearance suggests their alliance remains somewhat shaky.
Still, Mr. Farrakhan's movement has had indisputable successes in rescuing young men from the vicious cycle of drugs and violent crime. Perhaps he truly is sincere in wanting to work with Mr. Chavis to stop the killing and not simply trading on the NAACP's good offices for purposes of self-aggrandizement. Only time will tell.
Meanwhile, Mr. Chavis clearly went out on a limb in Chicago to make his point. When he returns, let us hope he will pay as much attention to matters closer to home.