In an atmosphere charged with the excitement of a political convention, 1,200 church members packed an Anaheim auditorium Thursday and won commitments from the mayors of Orange County's two largest cities to do more to combat drugs in their communities.
Mayors of Anaheim and Santa Ana promised the crowd that they would take to their city councils a resolution declaring the existence of a "drug epidemic" and calling for coordinated action by local police, prosecutors, judges, educators and elected officials to eradicate it.
To the delight of the crowd, Anaheim Mayor Fred Hunter and Santa Ana Mayor Daniel H. Young put their promises in writing on a blackboard wheeled out to the school auditorium stage by Father John Lenihan of St. Boniface Church in Anaheim.
The emotional 90-minute meeting began with members of 15 Santa Ana and Anaheim churches standing and roaring as Lenihan called out the names of each of their parishes, which have banded together to form the Orange County Congregation-Community Organizations.
Meanwhile, on the stage, Hunter clenched his jaw and Young folded his hands and glanced down at papers in front of him.
Then the audience heard a report from Stan Martin of St. Joseph's Church in Santa Ana, who outlined problems found by the interfaith federation during 6 months of research: a lack of detoxification beds for drug addicts; too few police officers and prosecutors assigned to combat illegal narcotics; a shortage of jail space, and too little money spent on anti-drug programs in schools.
"We can't find the money to deal with the drug epidemic that is destroying our families and killing our children," Martin told those assembled. "We want a coordinated, strategic campaign--today, not tomorrow. What's being done today is not enough."
The meeting then turned somber as group members gave testimony about their own family experiences with drugs.
Martha Maciel of St. Joseph's parish wept as she told the story of her brother, Thomas, who died at age 28 in an Orange County Jail cell in 1984. It was the last of several such visits that began after "Tommy" began using drugs at 14.
Maria Alaniz, a mother of three from Anaheim, told of her 6-year-old already talking with friends about other children using marijuana.
"I didn't think I had a problem," she said.
"But it shook me that my 6-year-old already had to be involved in that conversation."
Maria Alcala of St. Boniface parish drew a thunderous ovation when she asked the mayors why politicians seem so concerned about building new freeways.
"What are we doing about drugs?" she asked. "Isn't that more important?"
Hunter quickly made it clear that he agreed with Alcala.
"There are too many weak-kneed . . . milquetoast politicians who are going around the county telling you that traffic is the No. 1 problem," Hunter said. "I agree with you. We need to stop drugs."
Hunter told the crowd that, as a former police officer, he is familiar with the problems caused by drug abuse and drug trafficking in communities. "There are people today in state prison because of Fred Hunter," he said.
Part of the solution to the drug problem, Hunter said, is that "punishment must be swift, it must be sure, it must be severe. . . . If one marijuana cigarette is found in a car, take that car. If a dope pusher is selling cocaine, take that house."
Santa Ana Mayor Young, who followed the fiery Hunter to the podium, told the crowd that he was "saddened by the testimony and not naive to it." He recited a list of Santa Ana city programs aimed at fighting drugs, but acknowledged, "It's not enough."
The congregations were brought together with the help of the Orange County Sponsoring Committee, an umbrella group of religious and lay community leaders that began organizing county neighborhoods in the 1970s.