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Jackson Assails Drug Users for Wasting Rights

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Times Staff Writer

The Rev. Jesse Jackson took his anti-drug message into the heart of Los Angeles’ gang territory Friday, admonishing an audience of more than 2,000 at Fremont High School for betraying the martyrs of the civil rights movement and wasting the rights that were won for them.

“I challenge you because I love you, because I care, because I’m not scared of you,” Jackson said to a predominantly black and Latino crowd at the school’s stadium. “You are not a crawling snake; you are a human being. Raise your expectations.”

As he has at schools throughout the country, Jackson asked the students to stand if they knew someone of their age who had died of drugs. More than half rose.

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Jackson asked how many had used drugs and summoned them from the bleachers to renounce narcotics and violence.

Some Wear Colors

First one, then two, then by the dozens, young people descended--many wearing the colors and insignia that identify their South-Central street gang allegiance--and filed past confused and distressed Secret Service agents onto the football field.

At least one girl wept as she stood amid the crowd and recited after Jackson: “I can be and will be a better person. . . . I’ve fallen beneath my dignity.” Another teen-ager took the pledge wearing a cap signifying a gang affiliation.

The emotion-charged appeal demonstrated vividly how Jackson, facing long odds in the final stretch of his quest for the White House, has melded social movement with political campaign. It came during a day of more traditional stumping throughout the city.

Jackson reminded the young, street-scarred crowd of the “heroes and heroines” who died during the civil rights movement, years before most of them were born. Those who struggled for equal treatment hoped that the generation that followed them could use its hard-won rights to “hit the ground running and run with a passion to make life better,” Jackson said.

“One reads the papers about Los Angeles, about California; you who are so precious, who are so dear, are living beneath your privilege,” he said.

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“You know it’s wrong to bring guns to school. . . . No civilized, caring person would leave home looking for somebody to hurt, maim or destroy. You are better than that.”

‘Know It Right Now’

The man whose history-making campaign has made him an idol to black youth warned the students: “When I become President, I’m going to break it up and you better know it right now.”

After the speech, he expressed little concern over the fact that only a handful in the audience were eligible to vote. Jackson said he was practicing “politics, big P . . . the politics of change, the politics of hope.”

After Jackson left, several students and school officials said perhaps half of the 150 or more students who joined Jackson on the field Friday had ever used drugs. Others were like varsity basketball player Marcus Andrews, 18, who said he joined the throng just to be close to the man who wants to be President.

“I have never tried drugs in my life. I can’t take too much sugar in my Kool-Aid,” he said. But Jackson’s call presented “a chance of a lifetime. I’ll be able to say to my children: ‘Your daddy was this close to Jesse Jackson.’ ”

One student said she gave up smoking marijuana a year ago and wanted to stay drug-free. She hoped that Jackson’s message would influence some of her friends who still abuse drugs.

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‘Should Have Come Down’

“There were people up there (in the bleachers) who should have come down. Half of my friends--maybe 10 or 12--come to school high every other day. I don’t think nothing will change their mind.”

Principal John P. Haydel and several students said Fremont’s reputation in the community as a haven for drugs and gangs has begun to change.

Although three gangs are active in the area--the Bloods, the Cuz and the Florencia 13--Haydel said there is no gang activity on campus. Students generally agreed.

“Fremont is not as bad as people (in the community) think,” said senior Stephen Cain, 17. “They talk about gangs but I haven’t been bothered by any. If you don’t wear the colors, you won’t be bothered.”

Haydel said a recent undercover operation by the Los Angeles Police Department resulted in five arrests, which he said was low considering the location of the campus and the school’s 2,200-student enrollment. Twenty-five to 30 arrests would be “more usual,” he said, and attributed the improvement to peer pressure and motivational assemblies the school has sponsored to discourage drug use.

School Mostly Latino Now

The South-Central Los Angeles campus, which has undergone a dramatic change from predominantly black to 70% Latino in the last several years, was recently included in a Carnegie Foundation study that praised a unique dropout prevention program, which assigns a faculty member as counselor for each of 150 pupils considered at risk of failure.

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In the realm of more traditional politics, Jackson’s biggest challenge during his California primary campaign is to overcome the perception that only two viable candidates remain in the presidential race. Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, the Democratic front-runner, and Vice President George Bush, who will lead the GOP ticket, are treating the June 7 primary as merely a dry run of their fall match-up.

In a state where only 8% of the population is black, Jackson is seeking to boost his support among whites and Latinos.

One of his best opportunities lies with organized labor. As he spoke early Friday to the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, the group chanted “endorse, endorse” in protest of the AFL-CIO’s neutral stance in the presidential contest.

Doubt About Chances

But even those most enthusiastic about him express doubt about his chances. Loretta Mareno, a nurse and union official, said Dukakis and Bush are not speaking directly to the issues. “Jackson is. He is willing to go out on a limb.”

But she said: “I’m not sure Jackson can muster up enough support but I’d like to see him stay in there so his ideas are incorporated into the new Democratic platform.”

As he campaigns throughout the state, Jackson is tailoring his populist message to California. To ease fears that his proposed five-year military spending freeze would throw many in California’s defense industry out of work, for example, he is stressing developing space for non-military uses.

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The cost overruns and waste that have plagued the Pentagon, he said, “should not be used as a means of keeping people employed.”

Jackson did not say how much he would spend or how many jobs he would create in accelerating the peaceful development of space.

He also held rallies at Santa Monica City College and East Los Angeles College before departing for San Francisco.

Staff writer Elaine Woo contributed to this story.

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