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Editorial: Life in Camden

And death takes the rest

In life and death, Sherron Rolax symbolizes Camden's many problems - violence, drugs and hopelessness.

The man infamously photographed in 1996 being frisked by Gov. Christie Whitman was shot dead a week ago, becoming the city's 25th homicide victim this year.

Rolax, 28, was a teenager in May 1996 when state troopers searched him on a Camden street corner. Whitman, tagging along during a crackdown on drug crimes, took a turn patting down Rolax.

Four years later, a souvenir photo snapped by a state trooper surfaced shortly before the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia. It made Rolax, an African American, a symbol in the debate over racial profiling.

But Rolax never turned his life around and spent most of his adult life in prison on drug charges.

Today, Rolax's death sadly tells another story about Camden and its still seemingly bleak future. It remains a place where hope fades and dreams wither.

Despite new administrations in Trenton and promising redevelopment on the waterfront, not much has changed in Camden since Whitman's ride-along 12 years ago.

Camden remains a desperately poor city of 79,000 residents with high unemployment and crime rates, and a failing school system.

Escalating violence, which reached a record 60 homicides in 1995 during Whitman's term, continues to claim too many lives.

A day after Rolax was killed, a young woman was shot to death in the Fairview section, bringing the murder toll to 26. At this time last year, the city had 12 homicides. The city ended 2007 with 42 murders, compared with 35 the year before.

State police, dispatched to Camden by Whitman in 1996 to try to stem the bloodshed, still help patrol the city. Obviously, those efforts are not enough.

New Police Chief Edward Hargis and interim civilian Police Director John Huertas have rolled out several new initiatives. Last month, the department deployed 18 detectives, previously assigned to desk duty, to help patrol the streets during peak crime hours.

Time will tell if those moves are the key, but time is a precious commodity when people are dying.