KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Roberto Caldero's last gang summit was 10 years ago in Chicago. A peace plan was on the table for local gang leaders; so was a plate of cocaine.
The negotiators, well-armed for the secret talks, seemed to have little faith in the concept of nonviolence. Nothing lasting was accomplished.
The national gang summit that ended yesterday in Kansas City had almost nothing in common with that odd exercise in futility.
To Mr. Caldero, a Chicago gang counselor, the weekend gathering was more like a political convention, blended with a '60s-style happening and elements of a self-help program.
About 180 participants networked -- gang members, former gang members and community workers. Exchanging business cards and ideas, they also spoke out against violence, racism and police brutality. They hugged a lot, cried some and listened to each others' stories about death, drugs and hopelessness.
It's possible, Mr. Caldero said, that something important might arise from what organizers officially called the National Urban Peace and Justice Summit.
"If anyone's going to solve any of the gang problems in this country, I think some of the people here will," Mr. Caldero said.
Participants claimed one victory yesterday by pointing to the local police blotter: No violence in the city was attributable to them, they said.
The symbolism of the event was emphasized time and again: Longtime enemies talking instead of shooting, African-Americans and Hispanics finding common ground in a gathering supported by churches, the city's mayor and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Elce Redmond, a critic of the summit idea, wondered whether the symbolism outweighed the substance. The executive director of the Northwest Austin Council on Chicago's West Side said: "I don't think it's going to hurt. But when we get back to Chicago, are our problems going to be ending? No. Is it real, or is it a well-orchestrated dog-and-pony show?"
It's the same question many police officials ask, especially in the wake of peace efforts in Chicago and Los Angeles that can claim success only in isolated areas.
The agenda summit organizers released yesterday called for expanding "the urban peace movement" but mentioned nothing about halting the lucrative drug trade practiced by some gangs.
Participants made several concrete proposals. They called for creating half a million jobs for "at-risk youth." They recommended citizen patrols to videotape the actions of police and prevent brutality. They asked that President Clinton appoint a commission of "people of color" to address police brutality.
The summit agenda also emphasized the need for changes among blacks and Hispanics. Traditional values, respect for women and "effective parenting" were listed as goals.
Violence was denounced repeatedly, but gangs weren't.
A familiar refrain among participants was that street gangs are the equivalent of police, the military or fraternities.