Criminals are attacking Clearwater residents who dare to take a walk or ride a bike in the evenings, are threatening them with guns, are sometimes shooting them or pistol whipping them, and are robbing them of any cash in their pockets. More than 50 people have been attacked.
The whole city ought to be in an uproar over this crime wave. Residents ought to be asking for more police, establishing citizen patrols and checking to make sure that the city government is doing everything it can to educate the public and catch the perpetrators.
That there has been no communitywide uproar is troubling.
Because it should not matter that all of the victims of this crime wave are Hispanic.
To its credit, the Clearwater Police Department has been warning the Hispanic community about the risk of attack ever since the trend was identified in October. At that point, there had been 45 armed robberies of Hispanic men walking or riding a bike alone at night since the beginning of 2008. Since then, there have been six more. At least two victims have been shot and there have been other injuries as well. Police ask anyone with information to call the police tip line at (727) 562-4422.
Police believe Hispanic men are being targeted because they are more likely to carry cash. They also are more likely to be walking or riding a bike at night as they are going home from jobs in restaurants and other service businesses that stay open late. Both factors make them easy targets.
Many of these victims are working people who have a legitimate need to be on the streets and have every reason to expect to be able to navigate those streets safely. All Clearwater residents should be concerned that a segment of the community has been targeted for attack.
It also would be naive for Clearwater residents to think that such brazen criminals would necessarily confine themselves to Hispanic male victims. Someone who has the nerve to attack on a public street, and to do so armed with a gun, and to shoot or beat the victims while robbing them, isn't likely to fear attacking a non-Hispanic if an easy opportunity arises. That puts everyone at risk and ought to be of special concern at this time of year, when many Clearwater residents are out later in the evenings shopping or attending holiday events.
Police have arrested five suspects in connection with the string of attacks, but the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office decided against prosecuting three of the individuals and is still reviewing the two remaining cases. In many of the attacks, the suspects were masked, so identification is a problem for prosecutors.
Police are urging Hispanic men to travel in groups as much as possible and to put their money in the bank instead of carrying it in their pockets. (A driver's license is not required to open a bank account.) Those are good safety tips for everyone to follow.
Neighborhood associations throughout the city should encourage their residents to keep a watchful eye as they travel around the city and to report anything unusual. The city government, police and organizations that provide services to the Hispanic community also should continue or ratchet up their efforts to spread the word. This is a time for all Clearwater residents to look out for each other.