- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 16, 2003

D.C. youths have too much time on their hands. They have time to brawl in school lunchrooms and hallways, and time to roam the darkened streets as young prostitutes and car thieves. It’s time that policy-makers put the idle hands of these lawbreakers and troublemakers to real work.

For months on end, D.C. officials and businessmen have been bemoaning the proliferation of graffiti and other defacings in residential and commercial areas, much of which is perpetrated by youth gangs and youths involved in other devilment. The Williams administration bought graffiti blasters — trucks that use high-pressure water — and placed heat-sensing cameras in certain spots that even warn potential graffitists to “Please, move away from the wall. Your picture is being taken.” D.C. Council member Adrian Fenty, undoubtedly frustrated, called for an anti-graffiti initiative that would create a 24-hour anti-graffiti hot line. It also would mandate that the city remove graffiti within 48 hours of receiving one of those hot-line calls.

We salute Mr. Fenty’s good intentions, but costs are prohibitive — since anytime the city takes on such hefty new programs, it inevitably hires union workers and establishes a middle management bureaucracy to oversee those workers. An example: This year alone, the city has spent tens of thousands of dollars just to clean up graffiti along the U Street corridor. With calls coming in from all four corners, meeting expectations (and staving off the political implications of not meeting them) would prove too costly.

The city has managed to get roving bands of volunteers to help in graffiti clean-up efforts — a fine example of community spirit.

But city officials need to look at not just the problem-solvers but the problem-makers. School policy mandates that seniors perform a minimum of 100 hours of community service as a graduation requirement. D.C. Public Schools’ gang task force talks to youths about choices, but doesn’t seem to do much else.

Working in soup kitchens is a good thing. Similarly, getting youths to clean up their own mess could prove to be rewarding experiences: The youths learn the consequences of defiling other people’s property, and they can get school credit for community service. It is a win-win situation.

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