Schmoke backs anti-crime package but sees merit in alternatives, too

January 09, 1994|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke cut against the grain of a group of black leaders at a summit on violence yesterday, supporting the Clinton administration's anti-crime package that the others denounced.

"In my city, we do need more police," said Mr. Schmoke, who was a participant on two panels to discuss solutions to urban violence. "We do need to send a signal that certain kinds of activities will not be tolerated."

The mayor agreed, however, with the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, whose Rainbow Coalition convened the three-day summit, when called for black Americans to take the "moral offensive" against violence.

Mr. Schmoke said he wants to bring to Baltimore some of the programs discussed at the meeting, including one that would place first-time, nonviolent offenders under the supervision of churches, rather than in jail.

He said he plans to meet with Baltimore judges and church leaders to discuss creating such a program in the city.

Crime package debated

While Mr. Schmoke favored the anti-crime package, speakers ranging from the Rev. Al Sharpton to Laura Murphy of the American Civil Liberties Union to Rep. Kweisi Mfume, a Baltimore Democrat, called the package discriminatory and expensive and insisted it would not reduce crime.

Mr. Mfume called the bill, which includes money to hire more police officers, tougher sentences for young offenders, programs fight gangs and drug trafficking, and more money for substance abuse treatment for prisoners, an "antiquated approach."

He said violence cannot be solved without teaching youngsters basic values respecting life.

Mr. Schmoke acknowledged that the anti-crime package is "not a complete answer," but he said he believed it would reduce crime.

"Call it tough love," Mr. Schmoke said. "But we're not going to tolerate people preying on other people anymore."

Not much support

His comments were met with tepid applause, but the mayor, who was sharply criticized when he suggested the legalization of drugs, did not seemed bothered.

"I did seem to be kind of alone," he said afterward.

At the end of the conference, Mr. Jackson outlined a grass-roots campaign heavy on the old-fashioned notion of reaching out to save wayward young people through family, church and school.

In addition to the mentor program, Mr. Jackson urged parents to take more interest in their children's education, meeting with teachers, taking children to schools, checking report cards and limiting the amount of television children watch.

He said businesses must be encouraged to fund stipends to help young people ages 17 to 30 get an education and job training, while black colleges and universities should help provide tutoring to those in jail.

And he pushed black community leaders to intensify efforts to register voters and to vote.

Mr. Jackson said the Rainbow Coalition would hold similar conferences across the country to bring attention to the need for an urban policy.

Call to government

While saying blacks must seize the initiative to help themselves, he did not absolve the government from responsibility. He said the Clinton administration needs to lobby for urban ban reforms with the same fervor it lobbied for the North American Free Trade Agreement. And he said President Clinton must proceed with filling a number of vacancies, including the top post at the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission.

Participants in the conference ranged from judges and college presidents to school dropouts and convicts.

'One voice'

"We speak with many mouths, but we all speak with one voice," Mr. Jackson said. "We share a point of view that was born of a common pain."

While many of the participants would be returning to comfortable, middle-class homes, one young panelist said he would be going home to a housing project in Harlem.

"I honestly believe I don't understand what all this means yet," said Errol James, a 22-year-old high school dropout.

"I'll wake up Monday morning in a housing project in Spanish Harlem and say, 'I was chilling with Jesse Jackson.' "

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