Our Opinion: Shame on politicians who play on fears

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 26, 2005

First it was Attorney General Jerry Kilgore who back in December announced his crusade to toughen Virginia’s anti-gang laws.

Writing on this page today, Rep. J. Randy Forbes takes on gangs through his &uot;Gangbuster bill.&uot;

Obviously, some Republican pollster has uncovered evidence that terrorists are no longer sufficiently frightening to the public, and politicians are going to have to introduce a new bogeyman to scare the bejeezus out of us.

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We can see the scene now inside the strategy room: &uot;Hey, our data shows a big spike in anxiety when the word ‘gang’ is used. People really respond to it.&uot;

The latest Federal Bureau of Investigation statistics we’ve seen show violent crime to be on a steep, about a decade-long decline. In addition, we report crime news in Suffolk every day, as well as speak to police on a regular basis and none of our reporters can recall even the mention of dangerous gang activity. Heck, the city didn’t even apply for anti-gang money recently being distributed by the state.

And good for them. We should be leery of politicians who are incessantly stoking fears, talking about threats to our safety. Invariably, they are trying to divert attention from real problems – in this case, it’s likely our ballooning budget deficit and the damage it is doing to the dollar on the world economic stage and an ill-fated Iraq mission that has left more than 1,500 Americans, some 10,000 physically wounded and possibly tens of thousands of more Americans emotionally scarred.

Forbes has been a good, level-headed representative for the fourth district. We’re surprised and a little disappointed that he would stoop to playing on people’s fears. His constituents deserve better.

While we don’t mean to imply that gangs do not exist – obviously they do. It’s just that their activities are usually confined to their small universe and there is little reason for the good, God-fearing middle class folks in Suffolk to lose a lot of sleep over being the victim of gang-related activity. You’re about as likely to win the lottery. Don’t fall for it.

Meanwhile, don’t be surprised if a color-coded gang warning system is somewhere in our not-too-distant future. It may even become necessary for us to surrender more of our civil liberties to combat the problem.