Two dozen black ministers and NAACP leaders led a mock funeral procession through the streets of South-Central Los Angeles on Wednesday in an effort to dramatize the rising toll of gang violence.
Stopping in front of two high schools to chant "Up with hope, down with dope," the activists ended their 25-vehicle motorcade--which included five hearses and two ambulances--by placing an empty coffin on the steps of City Hall.
"We conducted a drive-by--but we did not use bullets of lead, we used bullets of faith and bullets of prayer," said Raymond L. Johnson Jr., president of the Los Angeles chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, addressing a noontime City Hall rally.
"We are tired of the gang killings in our community. . . . We are here to say you don't need to join gangs, you don't need drugs in your community."
To fight the menace, Johnson called for increased government money for such anti-gang organizations as Community Youth Gang Services and SEY YES Inc., establishment of a criminal courthouse in South-Central Los Angeles, and creation of public and private summer job programs to give youngsters alternatives to hanging out on street corners.
Thus far this year, a total of 103 gang-related homicides have been reported in Los Angeles and jurisdictions patroled by the county Sheriff's Department.
The motorcade, accompanied by Los Angeles Police Department patrol cars, passed through many of the neighborhoods hit hardest by violence, drawing quizzical looks from residents who were unclear why drivers in hearses and limousines were blaring their horns during what otherwise appeared to be a funeral procession.
As the caravan passed the intersection of Hoover and 97th streets, police halted and handcuffed two men who, apparently by coincidence, emerged from a nearby house carrying a loaded shotgun.
At the rally, Johnson and the ministers, led by the Rev. Charles Mims of the Tabernacle of Faith Baptist church, were joined by City Councilmen Nate Holden and Robert Farrell and a spokesman for Mayor Tom Bradley, who is in Australia on a trade mission.