On Thursday night of last week, Charles Solomon was clubbed to death in his shop on Capitol Hill.
Early Friday, D.C. police arrested a teen-ager and charged him with Solomon's murder.
In their account of the arrest, Washington Post staff writers Thomas Morgan and Paul W. Valentine said that the suspect was booked as William A. Jackson of 1151 New Jersey Ave. NW and that his age was given as 18.
To provide us with background on the suspect, Morgan and Valentine noted these bits of information:
Jackson slept on a dirty mattress in a decrepit one-bedroom apartment he shared with four others.
Jackson had a juvenile criminal record. He had worked for Solomon for only two weeks.
Jackson's uncle, James Folsom, said Jackson's mother was an alcoholic. She died last October.
Folsom said Jackson, his sister and three brothers had lived in foster homes when they were children. He said Jackson's three brothers are in prison.
Folsom said of Jackson: "He practically raised himself up. All Billy knows is street life. His friends are thugs. I've been worried about him for some time. I told him he had to straighten himself out, to get a job." But Billy didn't listen, his uncle said. "He told me once he wanted to be a track star. He said he wanted to go to college. . . But he didn't know how to do it."
Until a trial is held, judgment on Billy Jackson's guilt must be withheld. But when the case is finally adjudicated, it will come as no shock if we learn that the person found guilty of Solomon's murder turns out to have a background quite similar to that of the man who now stands accused of the crime.
As is evident from any study of violent crime, the criminal often has little schooling and minuscule earning power. He has no feeling of acceptance in the community. His longstanding attitude of alienation strips him of the help he might otherwise get from school, family or friends.
A common thread runs through the backgrounds of many who perpetrate violence upon others during robberies: They have been brought up to believe there is no way for them to obtain the clothes they wear or the food they eat except by taking it away from people who do have these things. The only alternatives to robbery they can see are such illicit undertakings as scams, drug dealing and gambling.
From childhood, thieves and robbers are conditioned to believe there is nothing wrong with taking, by force and violence if necessary, what they need or want.
Our society alienates them or passively permits them to become alienated. The result is the same: they become part of an alien nation in our midst -- outcasts who are rejected but remain ever present.
As recently as a few decades ago, it was the fashion for judges to show them "mercy" by trying to banish them.Judges would say, "I'm going to turn you loose this time, boy, on the condition that you get out of town and stay out.The next time you're arrested here, I'm going to send you to prison for a long, long time."
The accused might think of such a sentence as a stroke of good luck. He escaped going to jail.
He didn't realize that he was no better off than he had been before. He was merely being sent off to the next town to get into the same kind of trouble or something worse. Nothing had been done to improve him or help him.
Chief Justice Warren E. Burger is no coddler of criminals.He thinks, as he has during his entire tenure as a judge, that crime must be punished. But to his credit he also thinks that we have a moral obligation to make a practical effort to give this nation's outcasts a fighting chance to rid themselves of the frustrating stigma of being aliens in their native land.
Burger wants to use jail time to teach inmates to read and write and cope with simple arithmetic, and to absorb practical vocational training. He wants to equip them to earn a living, understand the prices they are asked to pay in stores, and use reading as a tool that will broaden their horizons and permit them to find an appropriate place in society.
When others made such suggestions in the past, they were often put down as bleeding hearts and impractical reformers. Neither of those pejoratives fit Warren Burger. It is time to undertake practical programs designed to implement his suggestions.