The wages of violence

First it was the mayor, then it was the president. On successive nights last week, one and then the other stood in front of television cameras and microphones to tell us things weren’t going according to plan.

Mayor Peterson was responding to our city’s spike in violent crime. Last year was the third worst for homicides on record, 153. But that number didn’t begin to take into account all the other forms of insult and dread inflicted on the community. On the Sunday night before the mayor gave his speech, the Rev. Charles Harrison of Barnes United Methodist Church, a leader of the Ten Point Coalition, the citizens’ group dedicated to preventing inner-city crime, was robbed in his church. The following night, Sue Errington, a newly elected state senator from Muncie in town for the opening of the legislative session, was mugged in the parking lot of a CVS pharmacy in Butler-Tarkington. Incidents like these seemed less like exclamation points than part of a corrosive drip, dripping.

Peterson is a gifted manager, with a talent for developing thoughtful plans. If he had been given his way, the new stadium could have been built, not with tax dollars, but with the proceeds from a casino that could have added another attraction, comparable, say, to French Lick, to the city’s downtown. And his Indy Works consolidation plan has been praised by business leaders as the logical next step in the development of governmental and fiscal efficiencies started by Richard Lugar’s Unigov.

Similarly, Peterson’s crime plan deserves praise for facing up to the albatross of unfunded police and fire pensions. He has found a way to loosen up additional operating funds to fight crime. He also deserves credit for admitting that the city has underfunded its public safety obligations. In 2002, our police spending per capita was less than cities like Baltimore, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Cincinnati or … you get the point.

But as with his previous proposals, Peterson’s crime plan has a lot of working parts, the biggest one being the state Legislature. For Peterson’s plan to work the way he wants it to, state legislators who have shown a marked anti-urban bias are going to have to change their ways. In the first place, they will have to pass Hometown Matters, legislation that would allow municipalities to use new taxing options. Peterson also believes the state should take responsibility for child welfare costs.

This might remind you of the situation the mayor faced two years ago when he brought Indy Works to the state Legislature. His plan was reasonable. It had won major endorsements. Then it became a political football and stalled for lack of support. Today it appears that Peterson will eventually get everything he wanted back then. But fighting crime in Indianapolis requires greater urgency. We can only hope that the mayor has done a better job of laying the political groundwork for this latest proposal than he did for Indy Works.

At least Peterson has a plan. This, tragically, is more than can be said for our president. Last Wednesday night, President Bush flew in the face of the Iraq Study Group, members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a number of Republican political leaders, as well as a clear majority of the American people, and proposed sending over 20,000 more troops to Iraq.

Even hawks in favor of escalating the war are unimpressed; they want at least twice as many soldiers as that. Some have called for ten times that many. The trouble is, we don’t have them. Our military is now routinely described as being stretched to the “breaking point.”

President Bush, whose judgment throughout this misadventure has been nothing short of catastrophic, now wants Americans to believe he’s gotten his act together. “Fool me once …” as he once so famously tried to say.

Bush appears to be concerned about what will ensue if we pull our troops out of Iraq — namely that the country will become a client state of neighboring Iran. The irony, to put it generously, is that the U.S. is propping up a Shia regime in Iraq. Iran’s regime is Shia. Long gone is the pretense of establishing a democratic society in the desert. Were a nonsectarian strongman to appear on the scene, we would undoubtedly embrace him. The trouble is, Saddam Hussein is dead.

The night of the president’s speech, CNN reported that the U.S. has now spent almost $400 billion in Iraq. For that money, according to CNN, we could, among other things, have put 6 million cops on America’s streets. We could certainly use them.