[ OUR OPINION ]
EMOTIONS ran high after the brutal beating death last month of 11-year-old Kahealani Indreginal. A positive way of channeling those feelings would have been the formation of a program aimed at protecting children through crisis intervention and violence prevention. Instead, state Sen. Willie Espero has called for the death penalty for murderers of children. His proposal is a display of vengeance with no rationale or constructive end, and it should be ignored by other legislators.
Death penalty won’t
reduce child killings
THE ISSUEA state senator has said he will introduce a bill that would allow the death penalty to be imposed for the murder of a child.
The rate at which children were victims of homicide in the United States tripled from 1950 to 1997, according to a 1997 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This country had the highest rate of childhood homicide among the world's 26 industrialized nations. Calculations from 1999 show that the U.S. rate was three times higher than that of any of the other 25 countries.
Those figures confirm that child homicide certainly is an increasing problem in America, but the death penalty is not a deterrent. At the same time as it leads other countries in child homicides, the United States also is the world's only industrialized country with the death penalty. (The only other nation with which it shares the distinction of executing children is Somalia.)
Within U.S. borders, Hawaii's child homicide rate in 1996 and 1997 was 1.2 per 100,000 population, among the nation's lowest. Texas, with the busiest death chamber, had a rate of 2.8, according to the Crimes against Children Research Center.
Capital punishment has been brought into question throughout the country in recent years. Thirty-eight states now have the death penalty, but only 13 used it last year. Moratoriums on its use is the trend, as innocent people continue to be exonerated and released from death row.
Death sentences imposed by courts dropped by nearly half from the previous year, and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mentally retarded defendants cannot be sentenced to death. Justice John Paul Stevens has said that ending the death penalty for juveniles will be the "next area for debate."
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HAWAII was spared a New Year's Eve calamity once again, but fireworks took a toll elsewhere. The Legislature has decided in recent years to play Russian roulette, risking residents' health and safety by allowing people to celebrate the dawn of the new year with this dangerous activity. Intolerable levels of smoke and the risk of fire will not end until legislators enact a statewide ban on fireworks except in public displays.
Snuff out danger
with fireworks ban
THE ISSUEHawaii survived New Year's Eve fireworks without major damage or personal injury.
The Honolulu Fire Department responded to 50 alarms caused by fireworks on New Year's Eve and received 18 calls for medical help from people having difficulty breathing. Three structures were set afire by fireworks, but fortunately no one was caught inside. Novelties such as fountains and sparklers, while not as noisy as other fireworks, generated much of the smoke. Firefighters were busier responding to calls this New Year's holiday than the last.
"There were plenty of aerials," said Capt. Richard Soo, a department spokesman, "and I feel sure none of my fellow residents have pyrotechnic licenses and permits to set off things like that." Aerial fireworks are legally limited to public displays licensed by the Fire Department, but many people ignore that law. Stronger enforcement and stiffer penalties are needed.
Two families were left homeless and an 80-year-old Palolo woman died as a result of festivities ringing in the 2001 New Year. A Waialua man died of head injuries and a Kailua high school student lost an eye from fireworks a year earlier. By sheer luck, no such tragedy resulted from Tuesday night's explosions.
That good fortune was not shared in Veracruz, Mexico, where many people spent New Year's Day mourning the deaths of 28 friends and relatives and the injury of 41 from fireworks that exploded through a crowded central market. Previous fireworks explosions had killed 63 people in the central Mexican state of Guanajuato in 1999 and at least 68 people in Mexico City's central market in 1988.
In China, which some Hawaii residents claim as the cultural source of fireworks celebrations, a ban was put into effect a year ago in the eastern province of Jiangxi after a school fireworks explosion killed 42 people, most of them children. Fireworks already had been banned in Beijing and many other cities.
Former Gov. Ben Cayetano, supported by Honolulu's fire and police departments and -- according to a Star-Bulletin poll -- a majority of the island's residents, called for a total ban on fireworks, but the Legislature refused. Governor Lingle should urge lawmakers to reconsider the issue and enact such a prohibition in the upcoming session, before Hawaii experiences a catastrophe on the scale of Veracruz or Jiangxi.
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