February 18, 1999

     Bad news accumulates in my wire basket. It will make me feel better if I share it.

     There's a clipping about two sisters charged in Nassau County in January with endangering the welfare of their three children because they had lived without electricity in a shared apartment for about a year. The case was to come up tomorrow.

     Both women had low-paying jobs. They were able to keep up with the monthly rent of $925 on their one-bedroom apartment, but hadn't been able to afford the electric bills.

     The children, 6 and 13-year-old boys and a 15-year-old girl, were described as doing homework by candlelight. They told officials their parents took good care of them, but they were taken away by Child Protection Services anyway.

     What kind of a society is it that punishes parents for what at the worst was misplaced pride or the inability to seek help? What is wrong with the Long Island Power Authority's and various welfare agencies' programs for the indigent?

     Another story hit even harder. A 50-year-old Latvian Jew, who, according to The New York Times, "came to this country in 1992 with his family to escape religious persecution," was murdered in the laundromat where he worked by a 16-year-old Brooklyn youth who belonged to a gang called the Bloods.

     The youth, convicted of second-degree murder and robbery, "took $2 in quarters. . . and spent it on two 50-cent containers of fruit punch and four small apple pies."

     The reason? "I was just hungry," he said. The victim had been recently widowed and left two young children.

     This is a story taken from an earlier century. But we are still writing it in 1992.

     Then there is the awful death of 22-year-old Amadou Diallo on Feb. 4 when four plainclothes police officers, assigned to a Street Crime Unit in the Bronx, mistook him for a man wanted for rape and shot him full of 19 bullets.

     The death of the innocent and unarmed West African native has caused a storm of protest and media attention, as well it should, and brought Mayor Rudolph W. Giuli ani's administration under scrutiny, as is warranted. Will some good come of it?

     And what of the hideous accounts of beatings and the denial of medical care that ended in death in the Nassau County jail?

     You may well ask what I am doing collecting bad news from the metropolitan press and summarizing it here. I ask myself that too.

     Is it guilt for leading a pleasant life in a place graced by nature and calm rather than being out there on the front lines? Is it because these stories confirm a tenet of journalism that a newspaper dedicated only to good news fails its community?

     More to the point, perhaps, is a deep-seated belief that unless we all bear witness there will be no change.