Three young lives lost

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

ANINE-YEAR-OLD BOY who loves math and soccer dies when a bullet is fired through the front door of his home. A 21-year-old man is fatally shot in broad daylight as he boards a bus on a busy street. A 17-year-old girl dies when shots are exchanged on a neighborhood playground and she is caught in the crossfire.

The loss of these lives in the past five weeks is a sorrowful reminder that -- even as the District homicide rate declines -- violence maintains its pernicious grip on troubled neighborhoods.

Oscar Fuentes, George Rawlings and Kenyetta Nicholson-Stanley are faces behind the numbers of those murdered this year. Oscar, an honor-roll fourth-grader, was the most recent homicide victim. He was killed Saturday night when someone, according to police accounts, intentionally fired a shot through the door of his Columbia Heights apartment. The shooting of Mr. Rawlings attracted attention both because of the brazenness of his assailant gunning him down at 11:40 a.m. and because he was the elder brother of a boy killed in a controversial police shooting in 2007. Kenyetta, a high school senior studying for her SATs, was an innocent bystander in a shooting still unsolved.

That a little boy dies under such circumstances, that a family loses two sons to street violence and that no one steps forward to help police find a murderer should jolt the city out of any complacency about its declining murder rate. As of Monday, 129 people -- 22.3 percent less than last year -- had been killed. That is an encouraging trend, but no level of murders should be tolerable. Because violence mostly afflicts poor neighborhoods, and because most victims are young black men, sometimes themselves engaged in criminal activity, too often the violence is just shrugged off.

The principal of Oscar's school told us that in her three years at the Raymond Education Campus, five of her students have been shot. Oscar was the first to die and so, Lashada Ham says, they are having a hard time helping some of the children understand that the doctors just won't be able to take the bullet out of Oscar and let him come back to school.

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