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ANOTHER YOUTH TRAGEDY SHOWS SOCIETY'S FAILURES

The most distressing thing about the double murder of two teenagers in front of a Rose Park grocery store Sunday - other than the fact two human beings were needlessly destroyed before they had a chance to begin life - is that it underscores Utah society's inability to come to grips with escalating youth crime.

One year ago, the Legislature was called into special session to deal with gang violence. Much was said about getting tough and about punishing youths before they earned long rap sheets. Among other things, lawmakers funded more beds for juvenile offenders and started a work program for youths nearing the ends of their sentences. They passed laws automatically revoking the driver's license of anyone who fires a weapon or throws a bomb from a vehicle, prohibited the sale of firearms to anyone under 18 and required anyone over 16 to be tried as an adult in all cases involving a capital offense.Yet, less than one year later, many streets in Salt Lake City and surrounding cities still are under siege by heavily armed youths. The victims Sunday, 16-year-old Teddy Davis and 17-year-old Torrie Lambrose, shot each other because of gang rivalries and an argument that started in the store. One was armed with a .38 caliber revolver, the other with a .380 semiautomatic. Both had been arrested numerous times. Davis' first arrest came at the age of 9. Most recently, he was involved in the shooting of a man along the Days of '47 parade route.

Despite the new laws and the blustering politicians, the system has failed again.

Or is the system totally to blame?

Salt Lake Mayor Deedee Corradini is calling for more detention facilities and tougher laws. Indeed those things would help. At the least, they would allow courts to apply meaningful punishments to young offenders who now go free because detention centers aren't big enough.

But this is a problem that lawmakers alone can't fix. The type of love, support and encouragement that keeps 9-year-old delinquents from progressing to a life of murder before adulthood has to come from parents, neighbors, churches, schools and virtually ever segment of the community.

It involves ordinary people who volunteer time in youth organizations and who learn to know and care about the people around whom they live. It involves corporations that sponsor and invest in recreational programs, and business leaders who act as mentors to show impressionable youths the way to success.

Society as a whole failed Davis and Lambrose.

In the days since Sunday's shooting, parts of Salt Lake City have erupted in drive-by shootings and threats of retaliation. Violence begets violence, and many of Utah's children are caught in a cycle that virtually prohibits them from having meaningful lives.

The gang problem belongs to the entire Wasatch Front community, and nothing short of a communitywide soul-searching effort will bring it under control.