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Dana Parsons

Other States' Welcome Wagons Also Stocked With Fear

July 30, 1993|Dana Parsons

It's in the air. Let's get out of California !

Lots of people are saying it out loud. Presumably, many more have the thought tucked in their subconscious, not far from the surface.

One reason is obvious: Bad economic times can force people to move. But the economy works in cycles; people know that bad times have a way of turning into good times if they can just ride out the curve.

What, though, about the increasing threats of violence and personal danger? The economy may be cyclical, but is fear?

It's on my mind because of a couple I know. In their 40s with two children under 10 years old, they, like me, have been in Southern California for several years and previously lived in Denver. The woman, like me, grew up in Nebraska. The raging topic around their house is her desire to move back to Denver or Nebraska, partly, she believes, because those places aren't as violence-ridden as Southern California.

I phoned a friend in Denver yesterday and asked about violence. She's 39 and the mother of a 15-month-old daughter. "You should read the front page of the paper," she said. "I think everybody is really scared and what really brought it home was that there have been two different incidents where people were driving their car and got shot. In nice neighborhoods.

"The one three nights ago, which was particularly scary to families, was a family riding along in their Blazer. Somebody pulled up next to them and shot, and a bullet lodged in a 3-year-old kid's brain."

A few weeks ago, she said, "another kid, I think he was on the front porch or something, got caught in a cross-fire. He just got out of the hospital, a 6-year-old kid."

The spate of violence is dominating local conversation, she said. I asked how people were reacting to it.

"They're still in the shock stage. People know it's awful, and that we've got to do something, but what are you going to do?"

Some people have suggested that everyone arm themselves, she said. "So I'm thinking, yeah, I've got one hand on the steering wheel, the other hand on my gun, and I keep turning around to see if my daughter is OK.

"You read about it happening elsewhere. That's why everybody is in this shock mode now. You say 'It won't happen here' about your city, and then when it happens in your neighborhood, you say it then, too. Yeah, I knew there were gangs in Denver, but I tended to think they were in Five Points or northwest Denver and that they weren't out doing free-lance shooting. What this other stuff indicates is that it isn't that way."

Next, I phoned an Omaha woman, 42 and the mother of four children from 3 to 21. "The other night my daughter was out real late, and I was almost in tears," she said. "I told her I used to stay out late, but we didn't have to worry then. We didn't have to worry about violent crime. We used to worry only about a car accident. Now, you have to think, 'Have they been attacked?' "

The woman said, however, that she still makes a distinction between Omaha and places like California or New York. "I think most people here think 90% of the crime is in North Omaha and that the other 10% can happen anywhere. It used to be that West Omaha people thought things only happened in North Omaha or downtown. But I think they're now realizing that they are just as vulnerable. In my mind, I think we're still pretty safe, but I think for most people, more than crimes like burglary, it's the sex crimes and murders that most people are afraid of."

I don't know if my California friends will stay or go. If they go, they'll find that Omaha or Denver is not the place they remember from years ago, any more than California is the place it was years ago.

I asked my Denver friend if people are now resigned to perpetual violence. "I don't think people are at that point," she said. "I still tend to be somewhat optimistic that somehow it will work itself out, because people are going to be so enraged that something is going to have to be done, although I don't know what it is."

Denver Mayor Wellington Webb laid down a challenge. "I think the people of Denver and the metropolitan area are going to have to do something that I think was really not done initially in Los Angeles and (that is to) say, 'We're not going to run, and we're going to stand our ground."

To run or to stand your ground?

Whether you live in Orange County or Los Angeles County or Ventura County or Whatever County in Southern California, that's the question and the challenge fast moving into everyone's consciousness.

But if people are fleeing for the safe havens of their younger days, they shouldn't be shocked to discover that the sound that welcomes them back home isn't a 21-gun salute.

Dana Parsons' column appears Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Readers may reach Parsons by writing to him at The Times Orange County Edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, Calif. 92626, or calling (714) 966-7821.

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