The new armies of the night creep in on sneakers.
"My name is Tommy. I am in here for attempted murder and I am 15 years old and living in L.A.," says one inmate at a California youth facility. "My name is Derwin," says another, "and I'm in here for first degree murder and I'm the age of 17." He is smiling as he says this. He is trying to keep from laughing, in fact.
Meanwhile, a Beverly Hills woman is taking lessons on how to handle a gun in case she has to shoot a juvenile intruder. The instructor talks in euphemisms; instead of saying "you killed him," he says, "You would have taken care of the threat." He describes the "life or death" situation in which the woman would reach for a gun as one in which "your environment has been violated."
Violation of the environment on a massive scale is essentially the subject of a CBS Reports documentary on violent youth crime tonight at 10 on Channel 9. Miserably titled "Murder, Teenage Style," the program chronicles rising youth crime in Los Angeles, where the statistics are only half as frightening as the faces and the voices of the youthful offenders themselves.
This somber, riveting shocker makes paranoid, anarchic movie fantasies like "The Warriors" and "Assault on Precinct 13" Look not so fantastic after all.
Correspondent Ed Bradley and producer-director Irina Posner talk with young toughs and gang members who live in a hopeless twilight zone somewhere between "Blackboard Jungle" and "A Clockwork Orange," though much closer to the latter. The program opens with security camera footage of a pointless murder committed by a teen-ager after holding up a grocery store; kids are killing with no reason, no reluctance, no remorse.
Los Angeles deputy district attorney Jim Basque says, "It's almost like they have no fear of the criminal justice system as it exists now. It's whatever comes to the mind: 'Let's do it.'" The average term served for murder at the California Youth Authority, Bradley reports, is 2 1/2 years. Then they're out.
Judge Diane Wayne, who has worked in juvenile law since 1969, says the nature of delinquency has been changed drastically by easy access to guns. "Today kids seem to carry guns to school like we used to carry cigarettes," she says.
They are willing to kill, and even be killed, because "they have no expectational level of getting something good out of society," Wayne says. Dr. Saul Niedorf, director of mental health for L.A.'s juvenile halls, says the kids have no ambition in the traditional American sense. "They want to be something; they don't want to become something," he says.
There is no way to let television off the hook in considering the possible causes of this kind of disaffection, alienation and aggression. A boy at a juvenile home talks about the pleasure he gets from holding and loading a gun: "I guess, you know, a lot of it comes from TV, too -- you know just watching them pack their guns . . ."
The most disturbing words on the program are those spoken by the young people. They boast to Bradley about how easy it is for them to get guns, and one of them says matter-of-factly that "it's not that hard to kill somebody." They talk of "home boys," gang members getting bumped off almost as if they were blips that had disappeared from the screen of a video game. And one says ominously to Bradley, "There's going to be a war one day, there's going to be a serious war, and everybody figures, 'If I got my gun, I ain't going to go out by myself.'"
Somebody should wake up Ronald Reagan at 10 o'clock so he can watch this program.
After narrowly escaping death by the gun of an assassin, Reagan mindlessly reiterated his stand against gun control and referred to his alleged success in fighting violent crime in California with stiffer jail sentences. Bradley points out on this report that it is a felony to carry a billy club or a can of Mace in California but only a misdemeanor to carry a concealed, loaded gun. Deputy district attorney Basque says, "Firearms are by far and away the most identifiable cause of violence."
Obviously the whole program is implicitly an argument for stricter gun control. Bradley both opens and closes it by saying, "There are almost 200 million guns in this country." The NRA won't like this show, but then what's bad for the National Rifle Association is good for the U.S.A.
But the hour, more gripping and yet less sensationalistic than the ABC News Close-up "Youth Terror: The View From Behind the Gun," is about more than guns. It risks and succeeds at looking into the deeper, more troublesome crisis of spirit that lies behind a new national nightmare the likes of which we may never have seen before.