Invoking the memories of Cesar Chavez and John F. Kennedy--and taking note of the death of a 2-year-old girl shot in an apparent gang-related incident--President Clinton appealed Sunday to people on the Eastside to help him "take our communities back" from crime and violence.
"We have to make up our minds that we will no longer tolerate children killing children, children having guns being better armed than police officers. We are going to have to do better," Clinton told a crowd of several hundred gathered under gray skies in the courtyard of Our Lady Help of Christians School in the Lincoln Heights area.
In recent weeks Clinton increasingly has been speaking of crime, linking the nation's high level of urban violence to the breakdown of families in many neighborhoods and the absence of jobs in depressed urban regions.
Last weekend, speaking to an audience of black ministers in Memphis, Tenn., Clinton gave a long and impassioned speech on the subject, invoking the memory of Martin Luther King Jr. in appealing for help in pulling distressed communities back together. Sunday's speech to a largely Latino crowd was similar, albeit shorter, and substituted Chavez, Kennedy and the late President's brother, Robert F. Kennedy, for King. Once again Clinton stressed that the government can do only part of the job in reducing urban crime.
Clinton stopped in Los Angeles on his return from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Seattle.
After introductions by Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina and Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, Clinton told the crowd that Congress is close to passage of an anti-crime bill that embodies his campaign promise to provide money for communities to hire 100,000 additional police nationwide. The bill, he noted, would also ban the sale of many models of assault guns and prohibit minors from possessing handguns except under proper adult supervision.
Clinton also praised Congress for passing the Brady bill, which would impose a five-day waiting period for people buying handguns.
"All of these things will help," Clinton said, "but in the end, my fellow Americans, we have to take our communities back neighborhood by neighborhood, block by block, family by family, child by child."
"Our disregard for life in this country can be seen coast to coast," Clinton said, telling the crowd of having read in The Times on Sunday morning of the death of "a 2-year-old child killed . . . because her mother took her on an expedition in which the gang her mother was associated with got in a fight with another gang. And random shooting into their car felled no adult, just a 2-year-old innocent child."
Chavez, Clinton told the crowd, struggled to obtain "opportunity, not danger" for future generations. "Think how horrified he would be, God rest his soul, if he were here today, to pick up the paper and read about a 2-year-old child being killed."
In the case Clinton referred to, Bianca Hernandez died Saturday at Childrens Hospital of Los Angeles after being shot in the head late Friday night while riding in a car with her mother in the Echo Park neighborhood, about 2 1/2 miles from where Clinton spoke. Police said the shooting resulted from a gang showdown between a group of armed men and the women in the car, although members of the girl's family have disputed that description.
Chavez, like President Kennedy, whose assassination took place 30 years ago today, and Robert Kennedy "marched so that these children could have opportunity, not danger, and we have to give it to them," Clinton said.
But repairing communities requires more than just law enforcement, he added. "We cannot repair the troubled wounds of this country simply by making ourselves safer on our streets. We must also give our young people more to say \o7 yes \f7 to.
"Not only faith and family, but work. Work is required to organize society," Clinton said, telling the receptive audience that his successful fight for the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada will bring more jobs to Southern California and forge closer ties with Mexico.
"Mexico is our partner in the future whether anyone likes it or not, and we have to grow together," Clinton said, drawing one of the loudest rounds of applause of his day.
Earlier in the day, Clinton worshiped at Pasadena Presbyterian Church, where the pastor, the Rev. Dean Thompson, praised last week's speech in Memphis as "a wonderful sermon" that had the "promise of becoming one of the most significant messages by a President in the second half of this century."
While at the church, Clinton visited for more than 30 minutes with a group of families whose homes were burned in the recent wildfires.
Seated on a couch in front of a large fireplace in the church lounge, Clinton heard tales of rescues and concerns about rebuilding and of further damage from anticipated mudslides.