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Editorial: Resurgence of violence in Reading demands strong reaction

This should be an exciting and incredibly promising moment for Reading as it continues long-awaited efforts to position itself to prosper after so many years of difficulties.

The COVID-19 pandemic has ebbed, making it possible to resume downtown events. The Boscov’s Berks Jazz Fest is returning in all its glory starting April 1. There will be downtown block parties on the first Friday of each month. Regular events have returned to the Santander Arena and its sister performing arts center.

The city is on its way out of the state’s Act 47 program for financially distressed cities. Alvernia’s CollegeTowne project is up and running on Penn Street, with more plans in the works to capitalize on the presence of so many students downtown.

But familiar problems fester. Problems with parking almost resulted in the jazz festival moving to the suburbs. We’re glad a solution was found to that problem, though parking remains an issue in Reading, and not just downtown.

We wish we could say that was the biggest problem facing Reading, but sadly that’s not the case. Once again it is violent crime that is dominating attention and hurting the reputation of our community.

There has been one shooting after another in recent weeks. Two killed when a February dispute got out of hand on a Sunday morning on Schuylkill Avenue. Two more fatally shot a few blocks away on Miltimore Street on March 10. And then four teenagers shot, one of them fatally, Monday night on a playground in the 18th Ward. And those are only some of the worst examples.

We’re sorry to say that we’ve been here before. Only about a year ago our community was wrestling with how to deal with a similar spate of shootings. And just like now, the outcry intensified after a shooting involving young people, in that case a 14-year-old boy allegedly shot two teenage girls — one fatally — in the Oakbrook Homes, not far from where Monday’s violence took place.

If there were an easy solution to this problem, someone would have come up with it long ago. Concerns about crime in this community go back many, many years. There is no single answer. The best we can do is encourage everyone to do their part.

Police certainly have a role to play in preventing violence, but they can’t be everywhere. Their work must be reinforced by the efforts of others. It starts with parents teaching children to live the right way, knowing where they’re going and what they’re doing and making sure they don’t have access to weapons, especially firearms. Houses of worship and community organizations have their role to play as well, as do local government agencies. Reinforcing positive messages and giving kids productive things to do are crucial as well. People need to take ownership of their neighborhoods, watch for signs of trouble and be willing to cooperate with police. It takes all of these things to have a chance of turning the tide.

It is unfair to regard this as exclusively the city’s problem. Suburban and rural areas are hardly immune from violent crime, as we saw Saturday when gunfire erupted at a Wyomissing shopping center parking lot. And people from outside the city were involved in some of the recent shootings, including the one last week at the playground. Everyone in Berks County has a stake in taming this problem.

But the reality is that the stakes here are highest for Reading. The perception that it is an unsafe place to live or visit has hampered the city’s ability to thrive for generations now. That reputation is unfair, but persistent violent crime enables it to persist.

Reading needs to become an attractive place to live, work and play. That’s a common recipe for a successful city these days. Many young adults want to live in a place that’s within walking distance to their jobs and their favorite activities. Urban settings can be ideal for that. But it only works if people feel secure in their environment.

This latest surge in violent crime is discouraging for all concerned, but we must not give up on fighting this scourge. People’s lives are at stake, as is the future of our city.

Source: Berkshire mont

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