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ABDUL-HAKIM SHABAZZ Commentary: Politicians are playing games with lives

August 7, 2006

If you've been paying attention to the news lately, you probably know crime has been at a record high in Marion County. The homicide rate hasn't been this bad since the Backstreet Boys had a hit song. The year was 1998, by the way. In addition, burglary, robbery and larceny are all up double digits, percentage wise.

And while we've all heard about the Hamilton Avenue murders that left a family of seven dead or the shootings that took place during Black Expo weekend and the couples who've been attacked by teenagers downtown, you probably didn't hear about the physician who was carjacked while leaving work, the young man who was beaten by the Central Canal, nor the person who was robbed at gunpoint for his backpack.

And then there are the offenses of the Democratic members of the City-County Council.

As serious individuals were having serious discussions about how to deal with a primary factor of the rise in crime, the jailovercrowding problem, several councilors thought it was more important to play politics with public safety and put lives in jeopardy to score points this election year.

When Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi, a Republican, proposed renting 250 jail beds at New Castle to help alleviate the jail problem, Democrat Council President Monroe Gray demonstrated his mastery of parliamentary procedure by not even allowing the plan to be introduced. Gray, who is also a member of the Criminal Justice Planning Council, was the only member to say out loud that more jail beds were not needed to deal with the crime problem. This was also about the time a convicted child molester was released due to jail overcrowding. He has since been charged with re-offending.

However, after a massive shaming by the press and pundits, Gray allowed the proposal to get a hearing. The hearing was right out of a Kafka novel, or at least "Alice in Wonderland." And Democrats made the mistake of trying to debate someone who debates for a living.

When Democratic Councilor Vernon Brown asked if any criminals had ever reoffended because of early release, Brizzi had a list of several, including ones who had committed murder. When Democrat Mary Moriarty-Adams, whose nephew is helping run the campaign for Melina Kennedy, Brizzi's opponent, tried to argue one of the suspects in the Hamilton Avenue murders wasn't out on early release, Brizzi told her he was out because there was no room when he was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol. But perhaps the most insane comment came from Greg Bose, who tried to argue that part of the reason for jail overcrowding was that Brizzi was charging too many people with breaking the law.

Ironically, the same people who grilled the prosecutor over his jail-overcrowding plan, put out a news release two days later saying they supported another proposal, similar to Brizzi's, that would provide extra jail space. These were position changes that would make a Romanian contortionist jealous.

The sad part of it all is that the Council Democrats are engaged in a two-pronged strategy this election season: Deny crime is at a crisis level in Marion County to keep the public concern down to a minimum and prop up the Democratic candidate, while making the Republican incumbent look as ineffective as possible. Giving credit where credit is due, Kennedy has distanced herself from her fellow Democrats and called for an end to the clearly partisan bickering and gamesmanship.

I cannot sit by while a child molester goes free, a doctor is carjacked, and a young man is beaten to a pulp while some people decide to play politics. It is a shame that citizens must lose so that politicians can win. It's political gamesmanship that's almost criminal.



Shabazz is the morning show host on WXNT-AM 1430 and of counsel at the law firm of Lewis & Wilkins. His column appears monthly. He can be reached by e-mail at ashabazz@ibj.com.
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