Dual Goal Told at Rally: Strike at Crime, Win Olympic Funds
The atmosphere was festive--as much religious revival as community rally--but the 10,000 residents of South-Central and East Los Angeles who turned out at the downtown campus of Mount St. Mary’s College Sunday were grimly determined to intensify their war on drugs and crime and cut themselves in for a piece of the Olympic surplus.
What they wanted to know was whether political leaders attending the rally would support their package of anti-crime bills pending in the Legislature, and whether they would get behind their efforts to win funds from the Olympic surplus for youth programs in those two areas of the city.
“The central question is will the political leadership sitting on this stage use their power with us and for us to give our kids the same chance as any other kids,” said Edith Nealy, chairwoman of the South Central Organizing Committee, which co-sponsored the rally with East Los Angeles’ United Neighborhoods Organization.
Both groups are church-based community organizations that have established solid track records in campaigns against exorbitant auto insurance rates, toxic dumping, the proliferation of liquor stores and drug trafficking.
Mayor Tom Bradley, Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), Rep. Edward Roybal (D-Los Angeles), Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner and several state legislators in attendance all agreed to support the SCOC and UNO campaign against crime and proposals for money from the Olympic surplus.
“We will work very closely with you,” said Bradley, who is also a board member of the Amateur Athletic Foundation, which will distribute $225 million from the Olympic surplus. “All of us working together will respond well to the applications of UNO and SCOC.”
He cautioned both groups, however, that guidelines for distributing the surplus have not yet been developed, “so we have to be somewhat restrained” in specific commitments.
UNO and SCOC have developed more than 130 proposals seeking $10 million for community groups, churches and public and private agencies as part of their “Olympic legacy” program in East and South-Central Los Angeles.
The proposals include funding for athletic activities, arts programs, educational programs and projects to prevent gang violence and drug abuse.
After Bradley voiced his support in principle for the groups’ funding proposals, Nealy directed the mayor’s attention to a torch that had been carried in by two runners.
“Just as in ancient Greece the torch was passed from runner to runner, we want to pass our torch to you,” she said. “The only difference is that our torch won’t be lit until our Olympic package is approved.
“We pass to you the torch of our Olympic legacy and with it the hopes and aspirations of all our children.”
The rally opened with a parade of youngsters from dozens of youth organizations filing in front of the stage. Their pitch for Olympic funds was succinctly made on one banner reading: “Hunger isn’t the only form of starvation. Expose us to the arts.”
The crowd spilled across a grassy mall between buildings and down a street running through the campus at Figueroa Street and Adams Boulevard. Despite temperatures in the 90s, the crowd applauded enthusiastically to the spirited singing from a gospel choir.
At its beginning, the rally’s emphasis was on the groups’ crime fighting strategy that would:
- Create “combat zone” teams from several law enforcement agencies to crack down on gangs and drug trafficking in high crime neighborhoods.
- Increase liquor taxes to pay for more police.
- Increase federal drug agents in Los Angeles.
- Create a coalition to pressure local officials for more police protection.
“We come here to make a choice today,” said Father Luis Olivares, pastor of La Placita Roman Catholic Church in downtown Los Angeles. “We can fight those who stuff drugs into our children, or we can just sit on our butts and wish that it weren’t so.
“What’s it going to be? Are we going to stand and fight, or sit and talk?”
The crowd roared back in response: “Fight! Fight!”
Reiner told the crowd that his work with SCOC and UNO has been “a partnership that has tried to clean up the community and get rid of the gangs and drug dealers.
“It has been a partnership that has had many successes and no failures--no failures because you have failed only when you give up and quit. SCOC and UNO have never quit. So they have never failed.
“They don’t always get the answer they want the first time they ask, but they persevere. They keep coming back until the answer they get is, ‘Yes, we will help you clean up your community.’ ”