Somewhere In Hollywood, you can bet that someone is working on a movie script about the killings in Atlanta. It will be brought to the screen as either a movie or a docu-drama about the killing of 26 (last count) black youths. All that is missing is the ending. The killer or killers have yet to be caught.
For this reason, the Atlanta tragedy now could not possibly be a film. It does not conform to what Americans expect in their cops and robbers entertainment and to what they think happens in real life. In both, they think that the cops always get their man or that the more police you have the less crime you're going to have. Atlant, tragically, is proof that neither supposition is necessarily true.
To deal with crime, Atlant has 1,116 police officers. To help those police officers with this specific crime, the Justice Department has dispatched 30 FBI officers. The federal government has kicked in aid amounting to over $1 million and volunteers galore have come to the city to help find the culprit or culprits. Supercops came from various cities. Psychics have come, sniffed this and sniffed that, rubbed their crystal balls and gotten their names in the paper and they, too, have departed. Good and sincere people have come from all over and still the young people die.
All this has happened in a city that is, compared to some, manageable. Atlanta is the 30th largest city in the nation with a population of 422,293 persons. Compared to New York's 7 million this is nothing. In additon, not just anyone is likely to be a victim. You have to be black and young and a male, a set of criteria that reduces the pool of potential victims to considerably less than the population of Atlanta itself. Still, the people continue to be killed.
There are factors associated with the Atlanta situation that make it unique. But in one sense, the Atlanta murders are precisely the sort most feared by the population at large. They are senseless and apparently capricious. There is no robbery involved no burglary. They are the ultimate urban nightmare; a perfect stranger kills you for no good reason. In fact, one reason the killer (or killers) has thus far escaped detection is because he or she or they are apparently killing strangers. Other than age and race, there is no predicting the next victim and since there is nothing but the burder itself to connect the killer or killers with the person killed, detection becomes nearly impossible.
On television or in the movies, all murders are solved. A detective is assigned to the case and he sticks with it until he gets his man -- or his woman. What he does not get is yet another case and then still another and then another until the first case is all but forgotten. On television, he does not say that his chances of solving a murder are greatly diminished if he does not get to the scene before the witnesses leave and he does not admit that when stranger kills stranger, the chances of finding the killer diminish greatly.
The difference between television and reality causes knowledgable people to wince when the remedy to the crime problem is said to be more police or stricter sentencing or the death penalty or when it is expressed in some cliche like "bleeding heart judges." The awful truth is that most crimes go unsolved and when that is the case it does not matter what the sentence is or how harsh the judge may be. There is no one to be sentenced because no one has been caught.
It is unfashionable now to talk about the root causes of crime, to talk of poverty and ignorance and racial hatred -- to talk, in other words like a liberal.It's possible that none of those factors apply to the Atlanta situation, but out of it ought to come the realization that there is really no such thing as enough cops or strict enough judges or even enough space in the jails. The crime problem has its roots in society and it will not be solved by cliches or slogans or even brilliant police work.
This is what the situation in Atlanta proves. It ought to at least make us skeptical about the current rhetoric about crime. If all the cops and all the money and all the good intention in the world cannot stop a single criminal, how can there be enough money and cops and good intention to solve the crime problem?
At the moment, the Atlanta situation already is a tragedy and someday it may be trivialized by becoming a movie. In the meantime, it ought to at least be a lesson.