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Community News: Southwest

WEST ADAMS : Arsenio's Haul Small but 'Empowering'

July 17, 1994|ERIN J. AUBRY

The atmosphere in the parking lot of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church resembled a summer carnival, with bunches of metallic balloons decorating posts, banners hand-colored by children draped across a stair rail, and a parade of speakers enthusiastically cheered by onlookers nibbling ice cream bars.

But the message on the banners was serious: "Increase the Peace. Thanks for Your Guns."

The sobering purpose of the Monday event was to raise awareness of urban violence and persuade illegal gun owners in South-Central to turn in their arms, no questions asked.

Presiding over the daylong "gun drive" was a man who hoped his high profile could help achieve that goal: actor and comedian Arsenio Hall.

By Hall's measure, he succeeded. The drive produced a rifle, three handguns, a machete, a pellet gun and several small knives.

"I said when I started this thing, if I get one gun, save one life, that's a great thing," he said. "One woman came up to me, gave me her knife and said, 'Here, take it. I'm afraid I might use it on somebody.' "

Hall made a two-hour appearance along with First AME Pastor Cecil Murray and a host of community and youth leaders. All emphatically called for the end of gun warfare in the inner city. Though some spectators who braved the hot sun were more interested in meeting Hall, most turned up to support the anti-violence drive.

Craig X said he came from Compton to see if Hall's campaign was, in his words, the real deal.

"The homeys are kind of wondering about this, they're a little leery," said the 24-year-old member of the Nation of Islam. "This is a good beginning. Practically everybody I know carries illegal guns. I hope things like this won't just stop."

The rally turned up a sight rarely seen on central Los Angeles streets: an LAPD officer and his former nemesis touting the value of police and the community working together to increase public safety.

Officer Joe Walker of the DARE anti-drug program, who has repeatedly arrested Leon Gullett on drug charges, said that police and residents must feel they are working on the same side if the violence is to stop.

"We have to get past this us-against-them mentality," Walker said. "Turning in weapons is a step in the right direction."

For his part, Gullett said he is happy to be out of jail and has no intention of going back.

"I want to help the kids where I come from, not deal them drugs," said the 28-year-old resident of the Pueblo del Rio housing projects in South-Central. "We need to show young people that we care. That's what Arsenio's doing."

Murray lauded his famous parishioner's effort as a significant offensive in the war on crime.

"It's empowering," he said. "What he's doing is allowing people to feel like they've contributed something to the good of the community. You don't need 15 minutes of fame, just a minute or so, to feel like a hero and turn your attitude around."

Buoyed by the response to his call for disarmament, Hall said he intends to turn the one-day drive into a continuing program at the church.

"There is good in the 'hood; the media just doesn't report it," he said. "If there were as much coverage about efforts like this one as there is about O.J. (Simpson), things might be different."

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