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A statement from the NLC officers: 'Our nation must confront attitudes and issues.' (National League of Cities)

The following is an open letter to the leaders of America's cities and towns, and to all of America, from the officials of the National League of Cities.

The tragedy that began in Los Angeles and spread across the nation underscores the National League of Cities' commitment to the critical needs of our nation's communities. We have been painfully reminded that frustrations with no outlet, fueled by poverty and a sense of powerlessness, create cauldrons of hate and destruction.

It took a numbing scene on a citizen's videotape to provoke America's conscience about the ugliness of racism. The brutality committed against Rodney King by four white police officers was undeniable and inexcusable.

The stunning verdicts of acquittal shocked citizens across our nation, but no level of outrage can justify the violence and looting that erupted in Los Angeles or other cities in the following days.

We believe that these events must compel our nation into an examination of a much broader, more difficult and potentially more destructive set of underlying attitudes and issues. These are issues that for too long have been avoided, ignored or suppressed.

The televised impact of King's beating and the extensive news coverage of the trial itself allowed our attention to a systematic problem to be diverted to a particular event. It fostered a delusion that a conviction would somehow cleanse "the system," bring justice to bear, and create the happy ending that all television dramas are supposed to provide to us. Justice would be done, and then everyone could go back to the routine.

The verdicts and aftermath helped illuminate the real issues. They must not become lost in the anguish over last week's tragic events in Los Angeles.

How can each of us, individually as leaders of our communities and acting together as the National League of Cities, respond to the events and emotions that have burst upon us and our nation?

We must first disavow a word used so viciously in this kind of situation: namely, "them." What needs to be done requires a vocabulary built around "us," "we" and "our."

We as elected local officials, must look at our own communities. We must assess the strength and certitude if our institutions and policies in light of what has happened. We cannot allow the outrage over events in other places deceive us into thinking it can't happen here.

We must examine whether and how our citizens' concerns and sense of participation and belonging in our communities are being addressed. We must affirm the rights and protections of all people in our communities. Without respect, for the law there is little faith in government.

We call on the Justice Department to move swiftly in preparing a federal civil rights action to prosecute the brutal treatment of a person in an arrest.

We as individuals and as a nation must confront racism. Discrimination, exclusion, hostility and suspicion still thrive in virtually all walks of life and all corners of our country. Nearly 25 years after the Kerner Commission report on civil disorders, its indictment of a nation becoming more separate and more unequal still echoes with painful urgency.

The growing diversity of our population has compounded the context of racism, making it more complicated and more capable of involving and injuring all of us.

In whatever guise it may take, racism destroys a community. Discrimination and prejudice corrupt the social, economic and political processes that enable us to go about living. Like a parasite, racism feeds on someone else to nourish itself while weakening its victim. There is no vaccine to prevent it, but it can be uncovered and rooted out by paying attention and knowing what to look for.

The National League of Cities exists in part to assist the leaders of our nation's cities and towns with leadership skills and resources to help govern our communities. Many of us have had the opportunity to take part in or follow the work of the NLC Advisory Council's two-year project on "diversity and Governance." The report of their findings can be a resource to help communities everywhere build upon the growing diversity that will define our nation's future.

We must also confront the problems of increasing poverty and growing polarization by social-economic class or income.

The spread of poverty must be halted and reversed. The persistence and concentration of poverty, which has created a climate of polarization, abandonment and desolation within our communities, must be attacked and eliminated. The disparities and deficiencies in education, health, job opportunities and other basic human needs must be recognized and corrected.

In January, when a dozen NLC leaders were invited to the White House to meet with President Bush, we talked about some of these problems and the disturbing trends that are affecting virtually all of America's cities and towns.

We described our concerns in terms of the growing numbers of children whose lives are defined by poverty, family violence, delinquency, drug abuse, crime and alienation. We described conditions that threaten the loss of an entire generation of young Americans who see no ladders to climb or bridges of opportunity toward a better life.

One of the specific proposals we made to the President was to establish a national commission to examine these corrosive structural problems in our society. We spoke of the need to get at the underlying factors that must become more clearly understood before we can hope to solve these problems. We suggested the Kerner Commission as a model for bringing together the best ideas from all sides. to search for solutions.

President Bush embraced our idea and announced the creation of a National Commission on America's Urban Families in his State of the Union address two weeks later. Now a clear and urgent imperative to broaden and elevate the work of this commission has exploded in our midst just as this group is beginning its work.

It is an opportunity to move swiftly to address a set of issues that cries out for our attention. We urge the President to use this mechanism he created and invigorate it with resources and visibility to carry out a critically important mission.

As leaders of the National League of Cities, we are rededicating ourselves and this organization to the challenges of rescuing our communities and our citizens from the corrosive conditions that are threatening all of us: racism and social polarization, broken families and strained families putting children at risk, isolation bred by poverty and policies of disinvestment, crime and violence brought on by drugs and gangs, anger and resentment fed by a growing sense of hopelessness and despair, frustration and fear about the prospects for help or an opportunity to lead productive lives.

We also are calling upon the resources of our communities--business leaders, religious and community groups, neighbourhoods and individuals--to recognize the stakes involved and their own obligation to become involved and share the responsibility for changing attitudes and taking action.

And we firmly declare that the federal government must recognize and respond to its neglect of and disinvestment in hometown America. It is time for new priorities that will define our national security in terms of the strength and skills of our people and our communities in an economic competition more than troops and weapons arrayed for war.

Our cities desperately need help in solving problems of unemployment, health care, housing, education and a myriad of other substandard living conditions that are building tensions in cities across America. Unless we get that help, unless we are able to meet the basic economic and social needs of the people in our communities, we will be trapped forever in the failures of the past.

Working together in our communities, and working in partnership with our leaders at the federal and state levels of government, we can turn these destructive events of the past week into a catalyst for change. Just as we cannot allow the criminal acts that occured to go unpunished, we cannot let the significance of what happened go unrecognized or be swept aside.

We must respond. We can do something. Together we will work to find the answers. We must do it now. Glenda B. Hood, NLC President, Commissioner

of Orlando, Fla. Donald M. Fraser, NLC first Vice President

Mayor of Minneapolis, Minn. Sharpe James, NLC Seconf Vice President,

Mayor of Newark, N.J. Sidney J. Barthelemy, NLC Immediate

Past President, Mayor of New Orleans,

La.

May 16 seminar postponed by NBC/LEO group

To allow members of the National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials to participate in the May 16 "Save Our Cities" march on Washington, the group cancelled plans for a seminar on that date.

The seminar, on municipal public finance, will be rescheduled. For more information contact Thom McCloud at the National League of Cities, (202) 626-3120.
COPYRIGHT 1992 National League of Cities
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Hood, Glenda E.; Fraser, Donald M.; James, Sharpe; Barthelemy, Sidney J.
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:May 11, 1992
Words:1467
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