Americans are killing, robbing and raping each other in record numbers. Violence is so pervasive in some areas that schools are putting up metal detectors to keep guns out of the classroom.
Last year, on average, six Americans became victims of a violent crime every second. The jails are bursting at the seams, holding more than a million inmates.Such dismal statistics from the crime front prompted a recent Senate committee report to label the United States "the most violent and self-destructive nation on earth" - an assessment confirmed by comparative figures from other industrialized countries.
"It's outrageous, it's wrong and it's going to change," President Bush said in March after contrasting the high murder rate in the United States with the low American death toll in the Persian Gulf war against Iraq.
"During the first three days of the ground offensive," Bush said, "more Americans were killed in some American cities than at the entire Kuwaiti front . . . in the midst of the largest armored offensive in history."
Riding high on the euphoria of the gulf war, Bush in March urged congress to pass within 100 days - by mid-June - an anti-crime bill that would give police more powers and overhaul the court system.
Criminologists say the Bush crime package would be unlikely to bring peace to tough city streets because its emphasis is on law enforcement rather than the conditions that breed violence and crime in the first place.
"Any crime control agenda that relies on deterrence, law enforcement and incarceration without isolating and ameliorating the conditions that cause most crime is doomed to failure," said James Fyfe, a professor of justice at Washington's American University.
Fyfe, who was a policeman for 16 years, likened the administration's anti-crime strategy to the surgeon general asking doctors to attack AIDS without investigating its causes. It is a view widely shared by police officers and experts familiar with the grim conditions in big-city slums.
Twenty-five years ago, President Lyndon Johnson blamed "ignorance, discrimination, slums, poverty, disease, not enough jobs" for most violent crime. At the time, crime rates were beginning to climb steeply.
Since then, violent crime has increased 516 percent, according to a report by the Senate judiciary committee, and pushed the United States so far ahead of other countries that it is in a league of its own.