Let Republicans Try to Clean Up Crime Problems

By Bertelson, Christine | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), November 15, 1994 | Go to article overview

Let Republicans Try to Clean Up Crime Problems


Bertelson, Christine, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


FOR YEARS BEFORE Ishman Richardson was found dead - shot once in the head - last week in the stairwell of an abandoned house, many well-meaning people in the system tried to rescue him. For a while, it looked as though they might succeed.

Richardson, 17, was the fourth of five children born to an unmarried, alcoholic, high school dropout. He never knew his father. By the age of 11 he was a chronic truant and a vandal. At 12 he was a car thief, shoplifter and bully. At 14 he was a pistol-packing drug dealer. The two men charged with killing Richardson believed he had supplied a gun used to kill a friend of theirs, police said.

Yet in spite of Richardson's history, he had charisma, a drive to succeed, warmth and vulnerability that made him stand out among his hardened fellow juvenile delinquents.

The head of Missouri's Division of Youth Services, Mark Steward, took him home last year for Thanksgiving and helped him find a foster family in Poplar Bluff when Richardson's life was threatened. Butler County Juvenile Court Judge John Clark took Richardson along on a family vacation and often had him over to the house for dinner.

Last February, Richardson's champions dressed him up in a three-piece suit and trotted him before the state Legislature as if he were a prized pony. They believed that with their support, and the sheer force of his personality, Richardson could make it where hundreds of kids like him would not.

The streets proved them dead wrong.

"We take a promising kid like Ishman and help him through some hard times, and then he ends up dead," Steward said last week. "Our inner cities are turning into war zones."

I don't doubt Steward and Clark's affection for Richardson, or their sincere desire to help him. But believing that one nice kid among thousands can be "saved" by periodically plucking him from his home is pure fantasy. Such efforts are doomed to be as costly, and of as dubious value, as trying to save endangered species by putting them in zoos. You don't save the whales unless you save the oceans.

It would have been far more instructive for the legislators for whom Richardson grinned and waved in his Sunday best, to go to Richardson's neighborhood - Forest Park Southeast - for a dose of naked reality.

In 1993, a record year for homicides in St. Louis, eight people were killed in Forest Park Southeast. This is the neighborhood where, after dark, the streets belong to gun-toting crackheads and young girls holding illegitimate babies on their hips. …

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