A high school dropout's dream of putting to use his new college diploma was shattered by a random gang attack. A girl's ninth birthday ended with a stray bullet as she lay on her mother's bed.
From New York to Chicago to Milwaukee, big cities are seeking emergency gun control measures as they battle a dramatic rise in violent crimes, many involving random killings of innocent victims."It doesn't matter where you are or what you're doing, the lives of people in the inner city . . . are at stake," said anti-crime activist Ruth Varnado, whose Reclaiming the Streets movement has won praise from President Bush.
Milwaukee, a city of 600,000, has seen its murder rate jump by more than half to 18.7 per 100,000 residents between 1988 and 1989. That translated into a record 116 homicides in 1989. Already this year, 115 killings have been recorded. A decade ago, there were fewer than 100 homicides in all of Wisconsin.
Of even greater concern is the randomness of three killings in Milwaukee this month.
Nine-year-old Shereker Wilkins, whose family recently fled a Chicago housing project, was lying on her mother's bed Saturday night after celebrating her birthday when a stray bullet pierced the bedroom wall and struck her in the head. She died 10 hours later. Her mother couldn't afford the funeral.
"I wanted to get away from the drug dealers, gangs, shootings, the projects and make a new start for my kids," said Ruby Wilkins. "I thought I had moved somewhere where I would be safe."
A week earlier, a 17-year-old was accused of randomly selecting and executing Charles Davis, 19, to prove in a street gang initiation rite that he knew how to kill. Davis, a high school dropout, had recently earned a degree from Milwaukee Area Technical College and got a job at a lawn mower factory.
In the same neighborhood, Tammy Reilly, 17, was killed Saturday by an errant blast from a sawed-off shotgun as she listened to music in a relative's apartment.
"It's going to take a long time for this community to ever heal. They're are just too many scars," said Queen Hyler, founder of Stop the Violence, a citizen group. "I'm not going to sit here and watch them bury another 9-year-old without shaking this city up."
Hyler isn't alone in her efforts. City and county officials this week began drawing up emergency measures to enforce gun registration.
In Chicago, 628 slayings have been recorded so far this year, 111 more than all of last year. The City Council this week began emergency hearings to seek new ways to control drugs and gangs.
In New York City, 16 children have been shot since July 22 and six have died, police said. Mayor David Dinkins has also issued calls for tighter gun controls.
In Milwaukee, Police Chief Philip Arreola refused interviews this week and instructed his officers not to discuss the spate of killings.
Community activists blame the rising crime rate on double-digit unemployment and inadequate funding for schools, drug rehabilitation and counseling for gang members.