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This city, this summer


The shootings --- day after miserable day, sometimes several times a day --- take place so often, with such regularity, that they begin to lose their shock effect.

In other neighborhoods, the summer festivals go on, and tens of thousands of us turn out. The pools and beaches open, the East End rocks, the parks fill.

Rochester has been through troubling times before. In another such time, in another tragic July, Rochester exploded in race riots. It took a while, but eventually community leaders figured out that we had serious problems and that they wouldn't go away unless we dealt with them.

Committees were formed. Organizations were established. Protests were held. But looking back on that period, while there was plenty of community self-assessment and activism and navel-staring, I'm not sure we did much that addressed the problems that led to the riots.

Forty-two years later, we're watching eruptions of another kind. This time, nobody's smashing store windows and turning over cop cars and setting buildings on fire. This time the violence is strictly internal. Nearly always, it is young black male turning on young black male.

The root of the problem is the same as it was 42 years ago. But because the violence is so contained, it is easier to ignore, to give it little more than impatient condescension. Those people.

That city.

By daybreak of July 4, Rochester's number of murders for the year had hit 22. The latest victims: three people shot in just over 24 hours.

Before the end of the week, violence was front-page news again. Two men entered a westside apartment on July 7 and shot a woman in the neck and head. Shortly afterward, two men were shot on a northwest neighborhood street. No one died, but that was, well, simply the luck of the draw. This past weekend, in the early hours of Sunday morning, yet another murder: an 18-year-old boy. Early Monday morning this week: one man shot, another stabbed. Monday night: three more people murdered and a fourth wounded.

Those who are not yet numbed to the violence continue to hold street marches, place flowers as memorials, pray for peace.

And elected officials worry and grieve and rage on our behalf: This will not be tolerated.

Mid week last week, our cop-turned-mayor Bob Duffy and his new police chief, David Moore, held a press conference to announce tough new measures. Moore is putting more cops on the street, fast-tracking the assignment of new recruits, beefing up the police focus in high-crime neighborhoods. City officials are trying to devise a workable curfew plan.

Certainly something must be done. We cannot tolerate this. But I worry that what we do will cost us a lot of money, further erode civil liberties, heat up the tension between parts of the black community and the police --- and do little to address the problems that are at the heart of this violence.

It is predictably liberal to fret about throwing police at a crime problem. But it is conservative to worry about throwing money at a problem with no indication that it will have any long-term effect. Yes?

I'm sure our mayor and police chief can pull out statistics showing that ramping up the use of the police reduces violence. In an interview with this newspaper a few months ago, RIT criminal-justice professor John Klofas pointed to "aggressive policing" as an important factor in the decline in violence in New York City.

But there's a risk that we'll rely solely on police to solve what are very complex problems. City taxpayers may be willing to foot the bill for more police, at least for a while, if they think we're dealing with Rochester's high murder rate. But the RPD can't solve our problems. It can only contain them.

Bob Duffy recognizes the complexity of our violence problem. During his campaign, he talked repeatedly about the connection between crime, the economy, and education. Duffy has a responsibility to address all three --- to the limited extent that he can --- and he has made a commitment to do so.

The problem is, it'll take commitment by a lot more people than Bob Duffy. And stepped-up police activity may make the rest of us think we're off the hook.

Bush watch

The Supreme Court has snatched a bit of power away from our president who would be king. But last week's ruling on the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo merely gives us a little breathing room. Some members of Congress are likely to push for legislation giving Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld what they want. South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham, for one, doesn't believe that members of Al Qaeda (and, presumably, anybody we think might be a member of Al Qaeda) should be protected under the Geneva Conventions.

It's fine that Congress has its back up over the Bush power grab. But that's not enough. Whatever legislation Congress passes must provide basic criminal-justice protections for prisoners.

Even then, Congress and the media will have to be on guard. The president seems amenable to working something out with Congress, but that's little comfort. Nothing prevents him from doing what he's done with other legislation he didn't like: issue a signing statement and ignore the law.