Philadelphia — America's urban crisis cannot be nimbly stepped over by token efforts or conveniently swept under the rug of fiscal budgetary restraint. This is the message that emerges from a precedent-setting national conference meeting here to discuss ways to avert "more Miamis" this summer. The Conference on Urban Crisis is a meeting of neighborhood leaders in 16 cities and members of the National Black Police Association.
Many of these police and grass-roots leaders uneasily predict that tensions have reached a "tinder box stage" in urban areas and that it may be too late to adequately adress the myriad problems of police brutality, joblessness, and racial discrimination.
But the neighborhood people and the police are making a last-ditch effort to at least make their views known in hopes that the times of violence so many forecast can be avoided altogether.
Minority group leaders are not optimistic that there will be a bonanza of new youth jobs and minority hiring by police departments or major solutions to the housing blight that exists in urban America's core.
Yet many do feel that anything from fashion shows to drama workshops to more-traditional rap sessions and counseling can and should and will be used to avert more racial violence this summer.
Most participants at the two-day conference, however, cautioned against over-optimism that even stop-gap measures, such as more intensive counseling or arts workshop, could do much to stave off more city violence -- for long.
Detective Ronald Oliver of the Philadelphia Police Department, a member of the National Black Police Association (NBPA), said: "All this temporary stuff is just going to put off violence until tomorrow."
He, for one, thinks, more violence is inevitable. This is even though he is concerned as a black policeman about being "right in the middle of things," and many community leaders her point out that riots often leave blacks worse off than before.
What's needed, he added, is for blacks and other minorities to lift themselves up by their own bootstraps because the "establishment" won't do it for them. "We have to develop our own expertise; we have to develop our own power base," he says.
Meanwhile, Robert Woodson, who was instrumental in organizing this first-of-its-kind neighborhood group/black police conference, is as critical of top civil-rights movement leaders as he is of the Carter administration for short-changing minorities from vitally needed aid.
"The civil-rights movement figures usually brought out to represent the minority community in times of crisis are out of touch with the grass-roots level and can neither speak for it nor effectively negotiate with it," Mr. Woodson charged.
One grass-roots leader, Falaka Fattah, the president of the House of Umoja, urged others not to wait until for the days of social and economic equality between whites and blacks but for them to get out on the streets now and make them safer ans less conducive to riots.
While the conference is being held in the "City of Brotherly Love," the "Liberty City" section of Miami underlies many of the topics being discussed. Louis Colson, a black police officer from Detroit, said that "Liberty City symbolizes America; everything that happened there can happen across the country."