A Voice Against Black-on-black Crime

January 05, 1994|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — An article on the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson in yesterday's Sun should have stated that Ron Walters is head of the political science department at Howard University.

+ The Sun regrets the errors.

WASHINGTON -- The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson is angry. His voice rises and he lifts himself from a chair as he recounts the violence that has blanketed his neighborhood by Howard University.

Five murders occurred there in the past year. A drug dispute turned triple slaying inside a car. A storekeeper shot. A man gunned down in front of Mr. Jackson's wife, who was outside late one night emptying the garbage.


Even his home was burglarized.

"This stuff is not theory for me," he says. "We chose to live here. We will not surrender."

At 52, Mr. Jackson is preparing for yet another crusade. But this time, he is not talking about integrating Southern campuses or registering voters to enhance his own presidential aspirations.

Instead, he is taking aim at an American illness: violence.

More specifically, he is speaking about stamping out black-on-black violence, calling it "the No. 1 civil rights issue of our time."

"Whites kill blacks in big numbers and we scream genocide," he says. "If it's black-on-black, there is kind of a social conditioning of acceptance. We have a devaluing of black life. Nobody has a right to kill anybody."

Mr. Jackson's focus on the issue of black-on-black violence has resonated through the media if not with the audience he most wishes to influence, the country's youth.

XTC It is also an issue fraught with risk for Mr. Jackson. For as he speaks about black-on-black violence, he may harden the prejudices of others.

Still, Mr. Jackson will press his case during a National Black Leadership Conference on Youth Violence and Black on Black Crime, tomorrow through Saturday in Washington.

The conference, organized by Mr. Jackson's Rainbow Coalition and the Congressional Black Caucus, is loaded with political and entertainment stars, from Attorney General Janet Reno to Bill Cosby to Spike Lee. Baltimore Mayor Kurt L.Schmoke is also among those expected to attend.

In many ways, the conference symbolizes Mr. Jackson's

enduring clout.

His hair may be graying at the temples, his eyes framed by dark circles, but Mr. Jackson yearns to remain current, to remain at the center of a national debate.

"Times change," he says, pacing inside his office a few blocks from the White House. "Issues change, too."

Last year, Mr. Jackson appeared down if not out politically when he withdrew from consideration for the presidency of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He careened from issue to issue, challenging the minority hiring practices of major-league baseball one moment, protesting for Haitian refugees the next, and finding time to hone a script for his weekly CNN interview program.

He may not have been able to get a private audience with President Clinton, but he spent Christmas in Cuba with President Fidel Castro.

Jumble of emotions

Even in a 90-minute interview, he is a jumble of emotions and issues that stream out like an FM radio stuck on scan.

On and on he goes, about degrading rap lyrics, Midwest flood victims, Cuba, Haiti, President Clinton, violence, even the Chicago Bulls' succeeding without retired star Michael Jordan.

"Sometimes I wish I had the luxury of being a one-issue person and working eight-hour days," he says on the morning after his return from Cuba. "But I can't."

When Mr. Jackson is focused, though, news is made.

For the past seven months, in a series of weekly meetings at the Shiloh Baptist Church, he was laying the groundwork for a Washington-based mentoring program to rehabilitate young delinquents.

Sharpening message

And he was sharpening a message on violence. At first, few took notice. But Mr. Jackson is not so easily ignored. He raised the rhetoric and the stakes, telling a Chicago audience that he was "relieved" to be followed on the street by a white person rather than a black.

"All the time we have struggled and marched together, and now some of us have become so caught up in the violent culture, so dangerous, that now many of us are afraid of each other," Mr. Jackson now says. "I resent that. That the fruits of our home have become trampled in the sickness of our country."

Mr. Jackson hastens to add that violence is an epidemic that threatens the entire society.

"Some white writers and publishers want to play the black side of it and not deal with how sick our culture has become," Mr. Jackson says. "And how threatened all of us have become, whether you're walking down the inner-city streets, or on the Long Island Rail Road or in upstate New York opening your mailbox."

Still, what charged the debate was Mr. Jackson's call to halt black-on-black violence, a message bolstered by FBI crime statistics that showed nearly half the 23,760 murder victims of 1992 were black.

In those homicides where the assailant was known, 94 percent of black victims were killed by blacks.

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