L.A. Riots/Urban Problems

A thousand politicians and business leaders deplored the violent uprisings in south-central Los Angeles and then proceeded to recognize that new, smarter initiatives are needed to deal with 50% youth unemployment, crime, drugs, poverty, dilapidated housing, hunger and inadequate public services in the nation’s inner cities. From the inner cities comes the cry — “yes, you are condemning violence but you don’t pay any attention to us unless there is burning-and looting.”

For twelve years, the agony of the inner cities has been almost a taboo topic among politicians. Reagan and Bush have never devoted a single speech to poverty in America. Low income housing programs were cut by over 75% from the beginning of the decade to the end of the Eighties. Reagan even wanted the infant nutrition program for poor infants cut severely in 1981. Only Congress blocked him from weakening this successful program.

On Friday, May 1, 1992, the Wall St. Journal wrote that “there has almost been a code of silence among the major presidential candidates about dealing with the problems of America’s cities. Since Wednesday, that has changed.”

What kind of message is the power structure sending to the poor, desperate and unemployed in these cities? Just why cannot the leaders in government and business lead? Because if they can segregate the ‘other America” out of their concerns and risks, it is easier to look the other way, deploy cruel code words that divide people, and take the campaign money, the executive bonuses and stock options and run to the country clubs.

The press needs to introspect as well. They are right there when the urban riots and fires start. The pictures are all over the front pages and television news. But where are they when model inner city programs to alleviate the poverty and hopelessness are working? Those are considered “do-good” programs and are infrequently covered — until the bubble bursts. Look for more coverage about community leaders and youth programs that are working under severe conditions.

However, on Tuesday before Los Angeles erupted, a long-planned, new group called Public Allies was announced at a news conference in Washington, D.C. This new effort founded by young people, describes itself as a “multicultural organization dedicated to helping their generation find jobs where they can be on the front lines of solving the problems of our communities.”

With Mayor Kelly, Senator Wofford and other officials in attendance, Public Allies honored over 100 young people from metropolitan Washington “for their commitment to their communities and their vision for the future.”

Vanessa Kirsch, Katrina Brown and Jason Scott were working for days and nights getting ready for this occasion. They are raising money to train, support and place young people in full time positions working for the public good — not just charity but for change.

Mayor Kelly said that “their choice of public service as a full-time activity and long-term goal gives me great confidence in the future of our community.” A total of 600 people attended this news conference and awards ceremony, including awardees whose personal stories would have made wonderful media features.

Although the event was well advanced and occurred at the Municipal Center, Public Allies, which is nationwide in its scope of operations, received no newspaper coverage. Not in the Washington DC papers, not in the New York Times nor the Wall St. Journal. There was a little local television coverage.

Had those awardees rushed out to destroy some property instead of working daily to save lives and construct communities, they would have made headlines. The media must address the immorality of its news judgments as a systemic disease that is regularly contagious.

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