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ere is one of the most compelling statistics in all of society and affects every law-abiding citizen, whether they realize it or not. According to the National Institute for Literacy, 85 percent of all juvenile offenders rate at functionally or marginally illiterate. In our local daily newspaper, perhaps yours as well, we have a section that runs several times each week titled "Police Beat." In this section you will find reports released by the Conway Police Department that lists the various incidents, or police calls, that occur in our city over the past 24 hours or longer, depending on when the report runs in the paper.

We have one or more homicides reported from time to time, along with the usual armed robberies, muggings, purse snatches and many others. To give you a good idea, here are some incidents that were in a recent "Police Beat" that I read: harassing communications, public intoxication, violation of a protection order, sexual assault, terroristic threatening, theft of property and property damage. Have you thought about the fact that a high percentage of individuals who are involved in these incidents are functionally or marginally illiterate? Again, we all pay a price whether we realize it or not.

In our community, our overall crime rate is fairly low because we have a good police department and they are on top of the crime problem. The thing that makes any community safe, more than any other, is something we call the Rule of Law. The rule of law in its most basic form is the principle that no one is above the law. The most important application is the principle that government authority is legitimately exercised only in accordance with written, publicly disclosed laws adopted and enforced in accordance with established procedural steps referred to as due process.

The principle is intended to be a safeguard against arbitrary governance, whether by a totalitarian leader or mob rule. Since this column runs in newspapers all across the country, please allow me to stop here and ask you a few questions. How safe is your city or community? Is the Rule of Law strongly exercised where you live? Do you feel safe when you leave home, in the daytime or at night? While my column is basically a "community" newspaper column, I have been seeing something in the news that is very disturbing to me.

This is the rise of something called "flash mobs," where a group of people, mostly teenagers, swoop down on a business of some kind and just loot it in mass, taking anything they can get their hands on. Apparently these "hits" are coordinated with the use of cell phones and they enter an unsuspecting business establishment, take what they want and are gone before anyone has time to call the police. For the most part this is happening in large cities, but you can see where this is taking us if the authorities do not put an end to it. You can be sure that those responsible for actions of this type do not have any respect for the Rule of Law.

I am sure you know that the best way to deal with problems of this nature is to stop this activity before it spreads or gets a toehold. This usually requires harsh action and severe consequences for the offenders. Of course, catching them is something else. When people are functionally or marginally illiterate, they are failing in life and we all, as law-abiding citizens, pay a high price. Our Bookcase for Every Child project can make a difference.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Jim Davidson is a public speaker and syndicated columnist. You may contact him at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway, AR 72034. To begin a bookcase literacy project visit www.bookcaseforeverychild.com.)