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Tv Review : 'Assault On Affirmative Action'

June 17, 1986|LEE MARGULIES | Times Staff Writer

The Reagan Administration's constrictive policies on affirmative action are pointedly contrasted with the experiences of black firemen and police officers in tonight's "Frontline" documentary (8 p.m., Channel 50; 9 p.m., Channels 28 and 15).

The program is called "Assault on Affirmative Action," and the title exhibits the program's tilt, which is decidedly anti-Administration.

It's not that the Administration's viewpoint--that affirmative action programs are unholy because they constitute reverse discrimination--isn't represented, but the preponderance of testimony, and the most eloquently presented, is from those who favor the policies that seek to redress past discrimination.

Through interviews with fire fighters in Memphis and policemen in Indianapolis, producer Scott Craig and reporter George Curry draw a picture of the limited opportunities that existed for blacks in those cities just 10 years ago, prior to affirmative action decrees that called for increased hiring and promotion of minorities and women to reflect more accurately their makeup of the overall population.

"To a white person I would say that, 'You're starting to feel the things that black people and minorities have felt for a long time,' " a black policeman says in response to arguments that some whites are being passed over for jobs and promotions because of their race.

The Reagan Administration's position is articulated by Assistant Atty. Gen. William Bradford Reynolds, the controversial chief of the Justice Department's civil rights division, who has sought to eliminate affirmative action decrees that involve the federal government. "We can't play around with discrimination to cure discrimination," he maintains.

His is largely a philosophical argument, which doesn't lend itself to dramatic visual presentation. Much more compelling are the first-hand accounts of the men who say they wouldn't have their current jobs if the government hadn't gotten involved.

Backing them is Republican Mayor William Hudnut of Indianapolis, who has resisted Reynolds' efforts to scrap the city's racial-hiring goals. He asks, "Which is less moral: to do what we're doing with affirmative action, or to roll the clock back on the civil rights movement for 25 years and say we're going to go back to the way it was before, when there was no commitment and all of it was voluntary?"

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