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Rights Panel to Focus on L.A. Strife

June 13, 1993|IRIS YOKOI | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights will convene public hearings this week to discuss racial and ethnic tensions in Los Angeles.

The hearings are part of the commission's nationwide investigation into what federal officials call a "resurgence of racial and ethnic tensions in the United States" over the past 10 years.

The project, "Racial and Ethnic Tensions in American Communities: Poverty, Inequality and Discrimination," began a couple of years ago. The first of several hearings were conducted last year in Washington and Chicago.

The eight-member fact-finding commission will seek information on economic development in Los Angeles' segregated urban neighborhoods, on local police enforcement and administration of justice, and on media portrayals of racial and ethnic minorities.

About 100 government officials, business and community leaders, journalists, and law-enforcement representatives are to testify, but the public will also have a chance to comment. Daylong hearings will start at 9 a.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at the Sheraton Grande Hotel, 333 S. Figueroa St. Public comment periods will come at the end of each day.

In addition to hearing testimony, the commission will review published studies and reports on race relations and opportunities for minorities.

About a year after each hearing, a report on the individual city is released. And after all the hearings are completed, probably in about two years, the commission will release a final report and recommendations to the President and Congress.

"Part of our job is to monitor how well the federal government is responding to issues of civil rights," said commission spokesman Charles R. Rivera.

Rivera would not disclose the list of local individuals and organizations subpoenaed to testify before the commission, but representatives of several organizations contacted by City Times, including the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, confirmed they had been asked to speak.

The representatives said they appreciated the opportunity to bring attention to the problems and needs of minorities, but they also expressed skepticism about how much the hearings and the commission will accomplish.

Kathryn Imahara, staff attorney for the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, generally praised the commission for its efforts but questioned its effectiveness: "I don't know how seriously the powers that be take the recommendations into consideration. Have the reports translated into any real tangible benefits? I'm not sure."

Joe Hicks, executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said there is cynicism about whether the government is "ever going to get serious about change."

Hicks said that the Rev. Richard Horton, president of the SCLC board, will tell the commission that racial tensions in Los Angeles are economically based. Hicks said people of different races are being pitted against each other for "shrinking resources and jobs," and the SCLC will advocate more aggressive job-creation policies.

Arturo Vargas, vice president of MALDEF, said the issue of minority rights has already been studied extensively in previous hearings and reports and that what is needed now is action in the form of programs and policies.

Vargas said a MALDEF representative will testify on the need for programs that address the differences among minority groups. "You can't lump all minorities together," he said.

Vargas said MALDEF will also emphasize the need to help immigrants, in particular, learn job skills and become citizens.

"Millions of people in California are eligible to become citizens," he said. "We've got to get them through the process. Federal policy should focus on a massive naturalization effort.

"There is tremendous scapegoating happening today to immigrants. People blame the recession on immigrants . . . and exacerbate the high racial tensions already in the community."

Imahara said Stewart Kwoh, executive director of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, will represent the center and speak Wednesday on "the whole issue of, 'Yes, we as Asians have civil rights needs.' "

Imahara said Kwoh will tell the commission how racial violence has affected Asian-Americans and will explain the need for multilingual services and for inclusion in the political process. "We are doing some things on our own to try to address some of these issues, but we need a lot of support," Imahara said. "We just need to be included, and we just aren't."

* What: Public hearings on racial and ethnic tensions in Los Angeles.

* Who: U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. About 100 government officials, business and community leaders, journalists, and law-enforcement representatives are to testify.

* When: Daylong hearings will start at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Public comment periods will come at the end of each day.

* Where: Sheraton Grande Hotel, 333 S. Figueroa St.

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