SINCE 1990, the National Urban League has been calling for the United States government to launch a multibillion-dollar Marshall Plan to help solve the severe economic and social problems of the inner cities.
Now, in the aftermath of the riots in Los Angeles over the verdict last week in the Rodney King case, the Urban League contends that a Marshall Plan is even more critical to the inner cities and is equally as important to the US economy.
"The plan," says Billie Tidwell, National Urban League research director and author of the plan, "asserts that the US has to be globally competitive now, and African Americans in the inner cities must be productive not just from a moral position, but from an economic position ... African Americans are not expendable. They cannot be left out."
The Urban League plan calls for a $50 billion-a-year government and private industry effort for 10 years. The plan recommends the president appoint a Cabinet-level Marshall Plan administrator with an interagency council to guide the plan's implementation. "It is a national investment program," says Mr. Tidwell.
The main points of the plan call for a Headstart program for all inner-city children, increased availability of the support needed to ensure a sound public school education, an expansion of the Jobs Corps program, and employment training and apprentice programs for young adults. The plan also calls for creating and repairing infrastructure projects in communities.
Tidwell, who grew up in Watts in Los Angeles and was there during the riots of 1965, says: "Not only do we now have the current conflagration, but we have the unfinished business of 27 years ago. There are vacant lots in Watts that are reminders of what happened. There was virtually no follow-through by business and industry."
Like most inner cities in the '70s and '80s the flow of drugs into the Watts area increased as job opportunities narrowed. Crime increased; unemployment soared and gang activity became a way of life.
Sociologists have indicated that plenty of inner-city blacks fit the profile of a Rodney King - young men of limited education and work skills, but with criminal records and a history of drug activity.
"What they don't have is hope," says Tidwell, suggesting the impulse to riot is linked to hopelessness. "In fact there is an interdependency between the needs of all the Rodney Kings and the needs of the nation as a whole," he says. "The nation's leadership has to say that we have to eradicate from the public consciousness the notion that the Rodney Kings of our world are not needed. If they are not needed they will act accordingly, and feel they have no stake in this country, and if they feel they have no stake, crazy things happen."