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Editorial: The nation’s crime problem

Sunday’s fatal shooting of 26-year-old Antonio Rushawn Lee in East Spencer brings to five the number of homicides in Rowan County in 2017 — one in East Spencer, one near Faith and three in Salisbury. That’s five too many.

A more massive problem faces the nation’s biggest cities, however.

According to FBI estimates, violent crime increased 3.9 percent nationally from 2014 to 2015, largely due to a spike in murder rates in Boston, Chicago and Washington, D.C. The Major Cities Chiefs Association reports that U.S. cities saw 6,407 homicides in 2016, an 11 percent increase from the year before.

To our south, the city of Charlotte has seen more than 40 homicides since Jan. 1, and the leader of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police says his department is doing all it can to curb the violence.

“We’re in the hot spots,” CMPD Chief Kerr Putney told The Charlotte Observer in March. “We’re seizing guns, taking illegal guns off the street, we’re focusing on those repeat offenders.

“We’re also looking at suspects who are escalating their violence. If I go from pointing a gun at you to shooting at a house to shooting at a car, it’s not illogical that you might shoot a person.”

In most of the Charlotte murders, the victim and the shooter knew each other, which is often the case in Rowan County, too. Murders usually are not random; they stem from confrontations that escalate to lethal force. Too often, though, witnesses go mum when police come around to find the culprits and keep them from killing again. A conspiracy of silence enables the violence to go on.

The last time the country saw a surge in crime like the one plaguing metro cities  now was in the the crack cocaine days of the 1990s. The nation’s addiction to opioids — whose death toll is another kind of “murder” rate — could be driving the big cities’ violent crime rate now. Problems cited by metro police departments include gang violence and retaliation, violence associated with drugs, the large number of guns in many cities and conflicts that originate on social media, according to a TIME magazine report.

President Donald Trump has promised to get tough on crime, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions has ordered stricter federal criminal sentencing guidance. Prosecutors, Sessions says, should “charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense.” As they say, if you do the crime, you should do the time. The United States already has the highest incarceration rate in the world, though. Clearly we need a better deterrent — or better opportunities to thrive on the right side of the law.

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