Seattle's relatively low crime rate underscores the horror of two recent incidents: the brutal death of a good samaritan and the stabbing of a man leaving his bachelor party.

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With Seattle’s crime rate the lowest it’s been in decades, the violent death of James Paroline is a distressing intrusion on relative calm.

Paroline was outside his upper Rainier Beach home sprucing up a traffic circle when young thugs decided to take him on. Paroline’s offense? Placing orange construction cones in the street to cordon off the small area where he toiled — weeding, watering and tending purple, yellow and pink flowers.

Paroline was adding beauty to a part of a city we all share. To three teenage girls, this was unforgivable.

According to police, the girls were in a car and argued with Paroline to move the cones. He refused. Things went dangerously downhill from there, providing an unsettling view of what happens when respect and neighborhood congeniality are absent.

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The girls moved the cones; Paroline spayed them with his garden hose. The girls threw water on him from a large jug. Witnesses disagree about who threw the first blow but say some scuffling ensued. At some point a young man drove up.

If one could have freeze-framed the situation at that point, it would look like this: A person drives up and has a choice to follow in Paroline’s footsteps and do something positive like quelling the dispute, or follow the girls’ lead and challenge a blameless act. We know from the news stories the stranger chose the latter.

The man punched Paroline in the head, the 60-year-old fell backward, struck his head on the asphalt and died a day later from his injuries. That none of this should have happened is an understatement.

Orange cones are not calls to battle. They are an infrequent presence when residents want to slow traffic near kids playing or save a parking spot. They can be irritating. Most people respond to these impromptu traffic signals in a reasonable manner.

Rational behavior further requires anyone knowing the identity of Paroline’s assailant to contact police. It is a crime to beat another person; it is a very serious crime to cause their death. The three girls bear a different responsibility: finding a moral conscience.

The incident on a balmy summer evening is in stark contrast to the growing peacefulness of Seattle streets. Crime fell in our city to a 39-year low in 2007, mirroring a national trend in which violent crime has fallen in most same-sized cities. That makes Paroline’s death all the more unsettling.

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