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Our Response to Crime

REVULSION and anger are the first response to a crime like the recent beating and rape of a young woman in New York's Central Park. But thinking has to move beyond those emotions. The young men, most of them in their mid-teens, in custody for the vicious attack will be tried and, if found guilty, punished. In the process, we hope, they'll come to understand the gravity of their deed - its terrible impact on the victim, her family and friends, and on society generally. The comment of one of the accused, that they did it for ``fun,'' says something about the need to revise images in popular culture that equate violence with entertainment.

It is heartening to see the community's efforts to express sympathy for the victim and pray for her recovery. The neighborhoods that produced the youths now accused of the crime have their share of upright, civic-minded people who want to see such attacks - which have victimized individuals of all races and income levels - stopped.

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The incident in Central Park is all the more disturbing for the background of the teen-agers involved. Few of them, according to accounts in the New York Times, came from truly devastated homes. For the most part, they have working parents, a measure of educational opportunity, and, in some cases, a degree of religious training. These positive influences, however, were apparently overcome by the lure of ``wilding,'' as they call preying on strollers, joggers, and vagrants.

Society's response to such crime has to include sure punishment for those found guilty. Most of the accused will be tried as juveniles, and their cases will revive hard questions about the balance of retribution and rehabilitation in dealing with children who commit violent crime. Society also has to look harder and more honestly at the communities these kids come from. How can they be helped to strengthen crucial institutions - schools, churches, and, above all, families?

Recent trends in police work toward community building through closer contact between officers and neighborhood people are positive. So are some prison programs that make offenders face what their actions do to individuals and families.

Prayer, too, plays a crucial role in antidoting a culture of crime. All people of faith have to recommit themselves to affirming the power of an all-loving God and recognizing that man responds, above all, to that divine influence. That fight against crime should involve everyone.

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