In a city where street violence is commonplace, maybe it's unfair to put special significance on the fact that some occurs in rec centers or playgrounds.
But we don't buy it. We believe that a public place designed for use by children - that should provide young people a respite from urban life - should be considered different from a street.
And it's time the city's leaders recognized this as a special problem, and not just the spillover from crime-ridden streets.
And by city leaders, we mean everyone: Parks & Recreation Department, police, City Council, the mayor, and even the controller. All of them are doing something individually, but this problem is too complicated for a single department.
Parks and Rec is scrambling to keep programs alive and keep centers well-maintained with a budget that is still shrinking. The department is installing cameras and more lighting in rec centers. But its efforts must be expanded to be more strategic, and police and others must get in on the act.
The mayor must renew efforts to find more money.
In 2007, City Controller Alan Butkovitz audited conditions at nearly half of the city's recreation centers. The list of problems - from dirty, unkempt buildings to broken and dangerous equipment - was a disheartening look at the low priority the city has placed on these centers.
It's a classic "broken windows" problem: Deteriorating conditions are going to attract more crime. In fact, five of the rec centers where violence has recently occurred were cited in the controller's report for at least one problem, and often more than one, ranging from health and safety hazards to damaged equipment and dirty/unsightly conditions. The message we send with an unkempt center is that we have little regard for the people who go there.
It's time to change that. It's time to turn this violent tide around. Councilwoman Cindy Bass held hearings recently on violence in these centers. Now it's time for action.
* New rule: If you're caught with or commit a crime with a gun on a rec center property, your sentence should be more severe. Big signs announcing this should be displayed in all centers.
* The Controller's Office should assist Parks & Rec and others to comprehensively review physical conditions, and reporting should be updated annually.
* Council members should put a priority on infusing money into improving rec centers.
* Citizens should not tolerate public spaces' being turned into graveyards, where children can get hurt or killed in cross fire.