LAST WEEK THE House of Representatives worked itself into a state of high dudgeon over the effect of violent entertainment on the children of America. D.C. children residing in the East Capitol Dwellings public housing complex near Capitol Hill can only wish their problems were limited to make-believe violence in movies, video games and music. In East Capitol Dwellings, they live with the real thing.
Monday evening, a grandmother, 55-year-old Helen Foster-El, was shot dead as she tried to round up nearby children and usher them to safety from a gunfight that had erupted in their midst. She wasn't the first in the neighborhood to die.
During the first 10 months of last year, seven homicides took place in East Capitol Dwellings -- three within a block of where Mrs. Foster-El was gunned down. In the same period, 41 assaults also occurred, including five on the block where she lived. While Congress gets worked up over a so-called cultural breakdown influencing the behavior of America's young, cops policing East Capitol Dwellings must cope with a more direct threat to kids. They confiscate about 36 guns a month, more than a gun a day, from that area.
East Capitol Dwellings is a mean world for the people who live there. It is a neighborhood with a playground children can't use because drug dealers have taken it over. The neighbors can't keep fences up behind their complex because the dealers tear them down. The neighborhood needs lighting and security but gets crapshooters, dice games and deadly gunplay.
"We just need all the help we can get," said one mother as she sat in the doorway of her apartment, keeping her children in sight. People in East Capitol Dwellings are getting precious little assistance. Instead they get rampant gunfire and the shooting of an innocent grandmother trying to protect little kids. This violent reality is unfolding in the shadow of national shrines in which solemn legislators hold forth on violent entertainment.