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AROUND THE SOUTH BAY

Events half a world away leave an imprint on Inglewood

June 25, 1987|SEBASTIAN ROTELLA

The people sitting around the table in the hotel conference room were tired.

They had just attended a forum that brought more than 300 people together to discuss the country's politics and policy.

They were tired, but they kept talking. The conversation was spirited, sometimes passionate. It jumped from topic to topic, but there was an underlying theme: Blacks who confine their interest and commitment to "black issues" must realize how wider national and international issues affect them.

"People see the neighborhood pusher on the corner selling drugs," said Fred Jones. "But they don't go beyond that. How did he get there? Where did those drugs come from?"

"Some things seem far away, but you can't wait until they affect you to find out about them," said Kwasi Geiger. "Say we invade Nicaragua. If it's like Vietnam, there'll be . . . blacks and Hispanics fighting and dying. And then, when it's too late, their families will start asking why this had to happen."

Ed Jones, Fred's brother, said: "You'll see anti-nuclear activists on TV protesting, and they're mainly white. Now why shouldn't we get involved? It's an American issue. If the bomb blows, it's going to take everybody."

That kind of discussion filled the Airport Park hotel ballroom Sunday at the first forum sponsored by Peoples Inquirer, a new group formed by the Jones brothers, Frank Lewis and Bernard Lambert.

The group hopes to provide a forum in Inglewood for speakers and issues that Fred Jones says are too often confined to white suburbia, and to explore how the topics affect minorities.

"Black people are interested in more than Michael Jackson," Geiger said.

People came from throughout the South Bay to hear Daniel Sheehan, a veteran civil rights lawyer and chief counsel for the Christic Institute, an interfaith public policy law firm.

The integrated audience included a small contingent from Four Directions, a Native American organization, whose members turned out in sunglasses, fatigue jackets and red berets.

Sheehan has degrees from the Harvard law and divinity schools and a record of defending underdogs in cases including the Karen Silkwood and Three Mile Island environmental lawsuits, the Ku Klux Klan slayings of civil rights marchers in Greensboro, N.C., and an investigation of the bloody Attica prison riot.

The latest Goliath that Sheehan and the Christic Institute have challenged is the "secret team" of intelligence operatives, arms merchants and free-lance anti-communists revealed to be at the heart of the Iran- contra scandal. Last year, before the names and faces of Oliver North, Richard Secord, Robert Owen, Albert Hakim and company had entered American living rooms, Sheehan filed suit against 29 people he says belong to the shadowy contra support network.

As Congress continues its investigation of the Reagan Administration, Sheehan is bringing results of his own investigation to audiences across the country. He paints a sinister picture of a government-sponsored supply network whose activities include gun-running, assassinations and drug trafficking.

"This is not an esoteric conspiracy theory," said Sheehan, a man with a shock of gray curls and a rapid-fire style that reflects his legal and clerical training. "We're bringing it to the mainstream, to the churches and social groups. . . . Every single church and synagogue should have a Contra- gate committee."

Sheehan's description of Contra- gate's impact on American ghettos was grim. He charged that the Costa Rican ranch of an American contra supporter was the take-off point for planes that brought a ton of cocaine a week into the United States, the profits going into arms purchases.

"We want to share the specifics of the coke connection," Sheehan said. "This problem affects all of us. How does it happen that this product is forced onto the American public? How do we feel about the network's involvement?"

Fred Jones said he first heard Sheehan speak months ago at Beverly Hills High School and was intrigued by the relation of the Iran- contra affair to a drug problem that is palpable in Inglewood. He and his friends decided to bring Sheehan to Inglewood, and Peoples Inquirer was born.

"Regardless of different interests or agendas, the drug issue affects everybody," Fred Jones said. "It brings it home."

The audience, some evidently well-informed about the Iran- contra affair, kept Sheehan busy for two hours answering questions.

Ed Jones, who is a deacon in his church, praised Sheehan's emphasis on the spiritual implications of political questions and said it would help spread the message to black congregations.

"There was some hesitation among ministers we invited to come today," Ed Jones said. "But this is not a radical group. We aren't advocating the overthrow of anything.

In the conference room after Sheehan had left, the organizers of the event said they were happy about the turnout but hoped more blacks will attend forums on AIDS and South Africa that the group hopes to schedule.

The impromptu rap session continued, with organizer Lambert asking for patience.

"It's going to take a little more time," Lambert said. "We have to get the word out about what we're trying to do. This was just a beginning."

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