- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 19, 2006

City officials are working extra hard to address the recent spike in crime; however, limited legislation often is against the worst instincts of the human condition.

The social dynamics that lead to criminal behavior are not easily eliminated, if history is a guide.

The corrosive power of the city’s public school system is well-documented. The system seems impervious to reform, no matter the best intentions of one superintendent after another.

It is a system that has been a source of consternation since the days of Mayor Walter E. Washington. It is a system that has been studied and analyzed and lavished with tax dollars. The gains have been negligible.

The city’s per-pupil expenditures are among the highest in the nation, while its test scores are among the nation’s lowest.

It does not help that public schools in urban environments more and more are saddled with responsibilities that used to be in the domain of the traditional family.

Single-parent families are hardly the exception these days, which merely increases the importance of the neighborhood school.

Disturbing as it is, teenagers are pushing the latest crime wave.

One of those arrested in the recent slaying of a British man in Georgetown was a 15-year-old. That is a sobering reality, that one so young is now so lost.

Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey declared the 30-day crime emergency, in part, because of the high-profile killing in Georgetown and the spate of attacks on tourists on the Mall.

Fear is not good for a city that values the tourist dollar.

The city is moving into a period of uncertainty, as Mayor Anthony A. Williams completes his final term in office. His stewardship has improved the image and fiscal health of the District.

Yet it has not halted the ever-increasing gap between the haves and have-nots of the city, no better reflected in the cost of housing in the most fashionable enclaves of Northwest versus many of the hardscrabble neighborhoods in Southeast.

The gap is squeezing the city’s shrinking middle class. For many young adults, the ubiquitous group house has come to be an antidote to the high rents and taxes of the city.

Those who would be the next mayor have lots of lofty ideas to improve the city’s quality of life, chief among them the repairing of the public school system.

The hopeful rhetoric is merely intended to earn votes, as so much campaign rhetoric usually is.

The construction crane has come to be the city flower under the leadership of Mr. Williams.

Vast swaths of the city have been revitalized, and it is the idea of Mr. Williams to replicate the success of Chinatown with the building of a new ballpark along the Anacostia River waterfront in Southeast.

And yet the emergence of the city remains incomplete, as Mr. Williams readily concedes and as the recent crime wave indicates.

His successor will take the reins of a city that has been losing residents since the ‘50s and is as divided as ever on matters of race and class.

It is a city that prays at the altar of diversity but actually practices something else, as the slaying in Georgetown reminds anew.

It also is a city with a significant underclass that lacks the education or vocational skills to compete in the job market.

The hard reality of the underclass is not easily addressed, as police, city leaders and urban sociologists have made clear in recent days.

Absentee parents, broken schools and the lure of the so-called “easy money” on the streets all play a part in the forming of a young criminal.

Government is not in the business of parenting. But it is in the business of educating the young. The city has been woefully derelict in that regard.

And we all pay a price for that. Sometimes the price is tragedy.

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