A WEEK ago today, 16-year-old Zacariah John Spears was shot dead
in front of Christmas shoppers by a youth-gang member at a suburban
Mr. Spears was not involved in a gang, but police are
investigating whether the friend he was with, who had gang ties,
may have been the intended victim. This murder is the latest sign
here of violence gone out of control.
Fueled by public concern over the dramatic rise in crime,
Washington State is becoming a laboratory for crime-prevention
strategies ranging from "lock 'em up" to "help them out."
Echoing national trends, juvenile violence in the state rose 92
percent between 1984 and 1992, almost twice as much as violent
crime in general, according to a Washington Association of Sheriffs
and Police Chiefs index of four key offenses: murder, rape,
robbery, and aggravated assault.
During the same period a broader state crime index moved up more
slowly: 29 percent for all ages, and 21 percent for juvenile
crimes. Here in the state's largest city, this year has seen almost
one-third more murders than 1992, many of them committed by young
people with guns.
Tough state initiative
The surge of violence is troubling in a state that traditionally
tries to fix problems before they get out of hand. Efforts that
emerge from Washington's mix of liberal and conservative advocates
promise to be closely watched nationwide, since crime recently
polled higher than health care or jobs as the issue of top national
One big step came last month, when Washington residents voted 3
to 1 in favor of Initiative 593, mandating life in prison for
people convicted of a third serious violent offense.
The "three strikes and you're out" measure will affect
primarily adult criminals, who, despite the rise of youth crime,
still account for almost 93 percent of the state's most-violent
crimes. A juvenile can earn a "strike" if tried as an adult.
Dave LaCourse, a leading campaigner for 593, says the
initiative's most important message is that state residents want to
do more than talk about stopping crime. He says that he plans
activism on juvenile justice issues this year.
The coming months will signal the degree to which the momentum
of 593 will be channeled into further anticrime measures here.
Among the steps under discussion by government bodies:
* Gov. Mike Lowry (D), who opposed 593, is talking up a "youth
agenda" that he says will be his top priority for the legislative
session starting in January. The program will blend tougher
juvenile justice and gun control with a stepped-up effort to uproot
the seeds of violence through an advertising campaign,
anger-management and mentoring programs in schools, and job and
recreation opportunities for kids. Some state lawmakers are working
up their own proposals.
* Newly reelected Seattle mayor Norm Rice, who was challenged on
the crime issue by tougher-than-thou challenger David Stern, is
offering ideas similar to Mr. Lowry's, including expanded services
for families and teens and getting guns off the streets. "The only
way to stop violence is by doing both," Mr. Rice asserted in
delivering his city budget this fall. He is moving to appoint a new
police chief, Norman Stamper from San Diego, a long-time advocate
of close police-community relations.
* To help students protect themselves without endangering lives,
one school board is considering allowing children to carry pepper
gas to spray at attackers.
The day after the Nov. 2 election, the National Rifle
Association described the passage of Initiative 593 and other
NRA-backed measures as a sign that Americans were rightly choosing
stringent sentences as a more valuable deterrent to crime than gun
"Yesterday Americans ... rejected 20-year-old failed solutions
like gun control and alternatives to prison," NRA chief Wayne
LaPierre Jr. said. "They voted for tougher prison sentences and
the abolition of parole in Virginia, a tough three-time-loser law
in Washington State, and prison building and an end to bail for
dangerous criminals in Texas. …