With the fervor of an old-time revival meeting, religious, political and community leaders filled a South-Central Los Angeles church Wednesday to push for prevention programs as an important, but increasingly overlooked, weapon in the uphill battle against escalating gang violence.
Henry Cisneros, President Clinton's secretary for housing and urban development, delivered an impassioned call for help in the administration's fight with the Congress, whose crackdown-oriented Republican leaders have thwarted the president's efforts to add crime prevention funds to the federal budget.
"Today is also really about money," Cisneros, speaking alternately in English and Spanish, told a largely African American and Latino audience at Phillips Temple CME Church. " 'Put your money where your mouth is' is an old cliche, but it's true. . . . Where we put our resources is a demonstration of our commitment."
Cisneros, in town for a two-day visit to prepare for the March 9 White House Conference on Youth, Drugs and Gangs, joined area religious leaders and Mayor Richard Riordan in calling for more money for after-school programs and other proven methods of luring gang members away from criminal life and keeping youngsters out of gangs.
The "Prevention and Early Intervention Strategy Summit" was sponsored by Hope in Youth, a project organized by area religious leaders that has been controversial. Critics have said the group uses its considerable political clout, including that of Cardinal Roger M. Mahony and the Los Angeles Roman Catholic Archdiocese, in an unfair competition for funds with other, perhaps more effective groups.
Hope in Youth leaders Wednesday said they wanted the summit to lead to a unified effort by all concerned about youths and street violence.
"We are not gathering to review who does the best work . . . but to provide leadership to increase public funding for these woefully underfunded initiatives," said Bishop Fred Borsch of the Los Angeles Episcopal Diocese.
The strategies that emerged from the summit included:
* A promise by Riordan to find room in the city's tightening budget for prevention programs and to seek money from private and government sources as well.
* A pledge by state Sen. Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica) and Assemblyman Antonio Villaraigosa (D-Los Angeles) to introduce legislation aimed at earmarking for prevention projects some of the monies generated from a voluntary income tax "checkoff" program.
* A June 10 deadline for developing concrete funding sources, in time for a progress report at the organizers' next meeting at an Eastside Catholic church.