Chavis says the road from violence must lead toward the land of hope

January 18, 1994|By James Bock | James Bock,Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- The Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., executive director of the NAACP, warned last night against trying to disarm the "choke-hold of violence" on the nation's cities without addressing "growing economic inequalities" that he said underlie crime.

Speaking at a Martin Luther King Jr. celebration at the National Museum of Natural History here, Dr. Chavis cautioned against the "proclivity to blame the victims" and to seek simplistic remedies for urban violence.

"Hatred of others, as well as self-hatred, is socially generated," said the leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which is based in Baltimore. "The spiral of violence and crime sweeping across the country does have a social pathology."

The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, who was Dr. Chavis' main rival for the NAACP director post last year, recently labeled black-on-black violence the "No. 1 civil rights issue of our time" and called for a moral crusade to control crime.

Dr. Chavis staked out somewhat different territory. He said that to reduce violence, the civil rights movement will have to concentrate more on economic development among blacks.

Gang leaders who lay down their weapons will "need job training, employment opportunities, a good education and a mentorship and nurturing program that will follow them into adulthood where the community is economically developed and viable," he said.

"There will be no economy unless there is equality in the economy," Dr. Chavis said. In his most sweeping address since taking the helm of the NAACP nearly 10 months ago, Dr. Chavis also said that:

* The civil rights struggle must be expanded beyond "black and white terms" to encompass today's multicultural society, including Latinos.

* Despite resegregation in many of the nation's schools, the NAACP "will not retreat from our historic stance favoring school integration, even if we have to relitigate every single school desegregation case."

* The environmental Superfund legislation scheduled for reauthorization by Congress needs fundamental reform to ensure that poor, black communities are adequately cleaned up.

* The NAACP is vigorously opposed to anti-Semitism and will not condone anti-Semitic statements or acts with silence.

Dr. Chavis liberally laced his address with quotations from Dr. King, whose 65th birthday was celebrated yesterday as a federal holiday.

"Where do we go from here, chaos or community?" Dr. Chavis asked, echoing the title of Dr. King's last book. "Too many people have chosen to engage in senseless chaos and destruction, rather than committing to community development and empowerment."

He said that following Dr. King's example, civil rights advocates will march "well into the 21st century, if necessary, until every child of God has an equal chance at life."

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