Boca Raton, Florida.--The issue of crime has provoked American politicians to spout demagoguery more befitting of the leaders of religious cults.
FBI figures show that the rate of major crimes has not gone higher. But the flaming political rhetoric has, searing most Americans with a panicky fear of violence.
Republican leaders cry that "the Democrats are soft on crime," as they used to call them "soft on communism." Now as then, leading Democrats are shaking in their boots, stooping to the disgraceful posture of trying to prove that they aren't coddlers of murderers, rapists, muggers and kidnappers. All Democrats seem compelled to offer some quick fix to the crime problem to prove that they hate violence.
Some of their proposals are hard to argue with, such as declaring a mandatory life sentence for persons convicted of three violent crimes, although that would have only a tiny impact on the crime problem.
The Senate proposes to spend $22 billion for more police and prisons, and to add 50 crimes to the federal list for which the perpetrator can be executed.
Putting more policemen on the streets is desirable mostly because their presence will help to mute the panic that the pols and the media have created. But the money for prisons will be a colossal waste, and the new capital-punishment laws will be no deterrent. They probably will only add to the maiming in our society, which has been violent since the arrival of the Mayflower, the conquering of Indian territories, the graspings of land, gold, oil in the West -- violence that is now reflected in rampant child abuse and Bobbitt-style marital assaults that are more widespread than we want to believe.
Gov. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., likes to brandish guns seized from teen-agers and declare, "We must get guns out of the hands of our children!"
Lotsa luck when the country is a loose-cannon arsenal of some 211 million handguns, and when not one of the hand-wringing politicians will cross the National Rifle Association to ensure that the number of handguns on our streets won't rise to 400 million by the turn of the century.
The scary thing is, few Democrats or Republicans will even mention the element of racism in this anti-crime orgy. Yet, racism stands with guns, gang turf wars, drug abuse, prisons that are crime schools, joblessness, human deprivation and hopelessness, in creating a complex crime problem for which there is no simple or short-term solution.
House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich of Georgia has called for a "wartime" emergency program in which "stockades . . . without television or air conditioning" would be built to incarcerate criminals.
As a longtime supporter of the "war on drugs," I have seen how that was turned into a racist war in which black teen-agers and young Hispanics were consigned to crowded jails and prisons, while powerful white dealers and rich white drug users, including editors, publishers, actors and actresses, got punished by their addictions, but never by the law.
Mr. Gingrich's "stockades" will become concentration camps for blacks, Hispanics, poor whites who are mostly jobless -- America's uneducated and hopeless, whom this society historically puts into prison.
This bigoted, mean-spirited part of the anti-crime orgy is just as beguiling to Americans as anything said by David Koresh in Waco or Jim Jones in Jonestown to their followers. If the political madness about "crime" continues here, the results could be just as tragic as they were in Waco and Jonestown.
Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.