WASHINGTON -- Saying that government alone can't stem black-on-black crime, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson called yesterday for a moral crusade in black communities across the country to "stop the violence and save our children."
"If change is to come, it must come from the bottom up, not top down," Mr. Jackson told a conference on youth violence organized by his national Rainbow Coalition. "Dr. King said that the only way to get someone off your back is to stand up. . . . If change is to come, the victims of violence -- the black community -- must stand up."
"It's not going to come from the White House or the courthouse," Mr. Jackson said to enthusiastic applause. "It's always been your house and my house."
The civil rights leader did not absolve government from responsibility for the condition of the nation's poor black neighborhoods. He said the Clinton administration should shift resources from military spending to social programs.
But he urged African-Americans to seize the initiative.
"Violence -- particularly black-on-black violence -- is not a secret," he said. "Nearly half of all murder victims are black. More blacks kill each other annually than were killed in the entire history of lynchings."
Mr. Jackson challenged black churches to each serve as mentors for 10 troubled young people. If 100 churches did so in 100 cities, "that would be 100,000 young men and women that might find alternatives to homelessness, despair and unnecessary incarceration," he said.
Outlining his plan for a grass-roots campaign, he said black colleges should "turn jails into universities," parents should closely supervise their children's educations and students should speak out against those who deal drugs and carry weapons.
As the mostly middle-aged, middle-class conferees spoke in the abstract about violence, one student, Tyrene Wilson, 20, of Southeast Washington, stood up in exasperation and tearfully recounted her own concrete experiences.
"I've seen somebody get shot in the face five times. I'm sick of it," she said. "If you all are for real, do something about it. I live in these neighborhoods; you all don't. . . . All I know is I need help and I'm afraid."
Ms. Wilson said later that she had lost several friends to violence.
"We are at war with each other," she said. "Every time I hear gunshots I hit the floor."
The conference offered no pat solutions to the epidemic of violence that has resulted in soaring murder rates in many cities, but it did show that Mr. Jackson, the 52-year-old civil rights leader, could still draw a diverse crowd.
Participants included U.S. Surgeon General M. Joycelyn Elders, drug czar Lee Brown, Nation of Islam spokesman Abdul Alim Muhammad and comedian Bill Cosby, who moderated a panel.
While much youth violence is drug-related, few speakers supported ending the prohibition of illicit drugs in an attempt to take the profit -- and violence -- out of the narcotics trade.
Dr. Elders, who last month called for a study of decriminalization in remarks that were immediately disavowed by the Clinton White House, steered clear of the topic yesterday. She spoke simply of applying a "public health approach" to the drug problem.
Mr. Brown, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, said he was "diametrically opposed" to drug legalization, calling it "the moral equivalent of genocide . . . and the road to the destruction of America."
The Nation of Islam's appearance on the program continued a trend of recent months in which mainstream civil rights leaders have welcomed the participation of Louis T. Farrakhan's black separatist group, which has a history of anti-Semitism.
"The old mainstream solutions have failed," Dr. Muhammad, the Nation of Islam's minister of health, said in an interview. He said the Nation of Islam has long preached that "integration won't solve problems, getting out the vote won't solve problems."
While decrying the "self-hatred" that he said leads blacks to prey on other members of their race, Dr. Muhammad told the conference that the young black males' "warrior spirit" was not necessarily negative. "Every nation of people needs a class around them who are willing to sacrifice all for the sake of all."
He explained later that much as young Americans go to war for their country, young blacks should be willing to defend their community.
"What's missing in our community is a sense of nationhood," he said.