Target the seeds of violence

(FILE)

It would be easy to put the blame for the tri-county's surge in homicides last year solely on the people who pulled the triggers or plunged in the knives.

Easy, but misleading.

And as Sunday's special report by The Post and Courier's Glenn Smith and Andrew Knapp starkly pointed out, the dire situation demands clear thinking, hard work and community collaboration.

According to police reports, 66 people died in homicides in Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties in 2014 - up 40 percent from 2013. Eighty percent of those deaths resulted from gun violence.

Left behind are: Parents who failed to keep their children on the straight and narrow. The police who have not been able to stop the illegal flow of guns or rid the streets of violence.

Schools where children have been promoted without knowledge and skills they need to be productive. The Legislature, which has a blind spot when it comes to the responsible regulation of guns. And a justice system that punishes a shoplifter more severely than someone illegally possessing a gun.

Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen said street violence needs to be treated like a public health crisis, with experts from multiple disciplines working together for solutions.

That's no small feat. Indeed, in 2004, following a 2003 spike in killings in Charleston, city and police leaders organized a summit. But no solid plan grew out of it.

The Lowcountry needs a comprehensive plan, and further, it needs to act on viable solutions.

Already police departments are doing things on their own in an effort to address the deadly problem. North Charleston police sponsor youth athletic programs and are trying to build trust with the community. Charleston is providing camps for at-risk children and is embedding officers in some of the city's most troubled neighborhoods.

But as Chief Mullen said, it is going to take more than police actions to reverse the climb in homicides.

Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston, has some ideas, including legislation that would make a person's third offense for illegally carrying a gun a felony punishable by between one and five years in prison. Shockingly, it's now a misdemeanor no matter how many times someone is caught. Both Chief Mullen and Mayor Joe Riley support his proposal.

Maybe tougher penalties are warranted. Pastor Thomas Dixon, a local activist, likes what Richmond, Va., is doing by mandating a five-year prison sentence for anybody caught with an illegal gun.

Mr. Gilliard also suggests a bill that would put witnesses' safety in the hands of the attorney general's office and SLED, in hopes of easing the fear of stepping forward with important information. It's worth taking up with those agencies.

James Johnson, president of the local chapter of the Tri-County Action Network, wants Gov. Nikki Haley to appoint a task force to crack down on gun trafficking.

Meanwhile, the S.C. Supreme Court has ordered the Legislature and school districts to come up with a reasonable plan to improve schools in poverty districts. Inferior education is a root cause of crime.

Coordinating such an array of initiatives is daunting, but it's necessary.

And it isn't nearly so daunting as what has plagued the Greater Charleston area in the past 14 years: a killing every seven days.