- The Washington Times - Monday, July 17, 2006

The last time I saw Chris Crowder, he was giving Bill Cosby a hard time for allegedly being too tough on poor black folks. Now Crowder, 44, is dead and I am thinking Mr. Cosby was not hard enough.

Police found Crowder on the morning of July 8, shot multiple times next to the wheelchair he had used since he was shot in the same neighborhood back in 1990, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.

Back then, during that era’s national crack epidemic, the District was the nation’s “murder capital.” Now Crowder has been killed during another epidemic — a murder epidemic. Police had no immediate motive or suspects in his death, but he was one of 14 homicides in Washington in the first week of July. Like the first epidemic, this one is not limited to D.C. Last month the FBI reported that the nation’s crime rate for murder, rape, aggravated assault and other violent crimes spiked upward in 2005 for the first time in five years.

Is crime making a comeback? In some cities it is. Like the District of Columbia, Milwaukee, Minneapolis and Boston report an upsurge in murder, particularly among juveniles who are not content to merely rob or steal.

Adding alarm to newscasters’ voices is the way this crime wave in the District, unlike earlier ones, is hitting the neighborhoods of tourists and rich people, not just street gangs and crack prostitutes.

Yes, the containment and abandonment of crime problems in poor people’s neighborhoods has long been a dirty little secret of urban life. Eventually, as with a lid held down on a boiling pot, crime spills over into other neighborhoods so major media and powerful politicians no longer can ignore it.

In D.C., it apparently spilled over to the upscale Georgetown area to take the life of a British man on July 9. Four suspects, including a 15-year-old, have been arrested in that slaying. A couple of days later, Police Chief Charles Ramsey declared a “crime emergency” that allowed him to put more police in troubled areas. Hours later, two groups of tourists were robbed at gunpoint near the Washington Monument on the National Mall, which is patrolled by the U.S. Park Police.

Yet, back in the less fortunate neighborhoods, abandonment by the rich and powerful does not leave either helpless or hopeless. Churches, block clubs, community organizations and other local resources can step up and help give parents and kids some guidance.

That was the message Mr. Cosby was preaching back in May, as he was taking questions at the University of the District of Columbia during one of the “call-outs” he has hosted around the country for the past two years.

As the world knows, Mr. Cosby ruffled a few feathers with his use of blunt, sarcastic humor to criticize parents who shun personal responsibility, blame police for incarcerations and let their children speak improper English. Yet, he also expressed what I hear most of our fellow African-Americans say in our private discussions, if not with the same language.

Nevertheless, Crowder, sitting in his wheelchair near a microphone, yelled to Mr. Cosby he was hosting a “watered-down dialogue,” though from my vantage point Mr. Cosby seemed to be doing just fine with the rest of the mostly black audience.

The outburst infuriated Mr. Cosby, who jumped down from the stage to confront Crowder. “You don’t deserve an audience with me,” said the star of stage, screen and Jell-O commercials. Fortunately, only words, not fists, were thrown. We can all get along.

Outspoken, I have since learned, is the kind of guy Crowder was. A Howard University graduate, he was working his way through law school in 1990 when, according to news accounts, he was shot in a case of mistaken identity. During a 1995 interview with CBS’ Mike Wallace, Crowder said he was shot by one of three teens that had mistaken him for a police officer.

He became a regular at community meetings, speaking out for affordable houses and programs for young people. Recently, he was running for mayor. Sadly, he now is silenced on the streets he said he wanted to make safer.

We Americans talk a lot about removing the root causes of terrorism abroad. Crowder’s death reminds us of the terrorism too many of us still face on the streets back home, too often at the hands of juveniles. The police and the juvenile justice system can’t solve crime problems alone. The rest of us need to work on the root causes of our neighborhood terrorism, too.

Too many parents have dropped the ball, either unwilling or unable to prevent their kids from falling off the social cliff. Too many parents are still children themselves. They have left it up to others to do the child rearing they should do themselves. Some folks may quarrel with Mr. Cosby’s language, but his message speaks the truth.

Clarence Page is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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