By far, the most ominous threat to personal safety in today's Columbia is the ever-increasing rash of senseless shootings perpetrated by young hoodlums and gang wannabes. Whether gang-related, revenge-motivated, drug- or turf-connected or merely macho exhibitions aimed at impressing others of the same idiot mentality, this thuggery has to be stopped.
Equally absurd and adding to the danger is the near robotic refusal of witnesses to cooperate with law enforcement, instead maintaining a strict code of silence by refusing to "snitch." This attitude is not new to the black community, which has a long history of mistrust of and lack of cooperation with the police.
While there has been ample precedent in formulating this hostile stance, for the most part it is reliving and magnifying old myths, grievances and lack of trust. In some ways it reminds me of today's charitable givers' reluctance to donate to the Red Cross because someone's uncle, grandfather or cousin was charged for coffee and doughnuts while serving in World War II.
Some of the proposed solutions to the gun play, whether random drive-by shootings or turf battles, include stricter gun laws to get firearms off the street and the legalization of drugs, thus depriving the gangs of a reason to exist. I suppose both are advanced by the well-meaning among us; however, neither offers anything to answer the mail.
As to passage of new gun laws, the last time I looked, all of these shootings and dischargings of firearms are already in violation of established laws.
Legalization of drugs would also have minimal impact on the criminal element. Taking drugs out of play won't encourage these hooligans to seek honest employment — instead, they will resort to strong arming, armed robbery, home invasions and extortion — all activities to which they are familiar.
By now, I know I am incurring the wrath from some of our citizens who will castigate me for not having to suffer indignities such as racial profiling, being followed while shopping, refused entrance and the other Jim Crow hand-me-downs. And, you would be correct — I have never walked in your shoes — but, we do share at least one character trait. We do know right from wrong.
This problem cannot be solved by law enforcement alone. Without citizen cooperation, for the most part, the police can only react after the fact. Let us face facts for once — the prevailing Sergeant Schultz of "Hogan's Heroes" attitude of "I hear nothing, I see nothing, I know nothing" just plain does not get it done.
The impetus for solving this dilemma resides squarely with the community. The "code of silence" must be broken, for it has cheapened black culture by infecting primarily the low income communities to accept deception as a way of life and to glorify criminal behavior by making heroes of common street thugs.
Writing for New York Magazine, Stanley Crouch put the code of silence into its lunatic perspective: "The greatest threat to black life and limb is not the police; it's criminals in our community."
That gunfire erupted in the vicinity of Chuck E. Cheese's, a family entertainment center, should be a wake-up call to the seriousness of this problem. The next person killed or wounded could be someone's child, mother, grandmother, aunt — innocent bystanders all.
For the good of the community and the safety of children, is it not time to put prejudice and perceived injustice behind and begin cooperation with the police? That next random bullet might have your name on it.
J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via email at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.