CIVILIZED people everywhere were hit hard last week by the story of the fatal subway stabbing in New York. A young tourist from Utah in town to see the US Open tennis tournament was killed while defending his parents from a gang. It's been a violent summer in too many US cities. Last weekend Chicago had 13 shooting deaths and 75 violent incidents overall - a result of gangs, drugs, arguments, and drive-by shootings that make a walk outside a risk.
``When it's this big, it's beyond simple prevention,'' says one member of a nonprofit Chicago law enforcement organization. Yet prevented it must be - somehow. The cheapening of the value of life, the wild spirit of lawlessness, hangs like a dense cloud over urban America.
Those who complain that violent crime gets more attention when the victims are white or affluent or are attacked in a high-profile part of town have it only partly right. Plenty of attention is being paid to random violence and its victims - white or black, young or old. When six children were hit by stray bullets over a period of 15 days in New York last month - many while sitting at home - the ugly pattern got national attention. New York mayor David Dinkins set about hiring 1,058 new police officers.
Tougher law enforcement is necessary. Yet a more effective middle ground must be found between the extremes of hard-line ``Robocop'' law enforcement and those merely ``talking away the problem'' by blaming history or society instead of individuals.
Short-term answers include stronger gun control. It's good to see a California judge throw out of court a National Rifle Association challenge to that state's ban of 56 types of assault weapons.
Longer-term needs include a greater common realism about factors essential to preventing violence - notably, more stable, two-parent homes that impart values of love and justice. Unrealistic? The alternative could be increased gang violence and a virtual police state in the cities.