Presidential crisis: Blacks in LA plan protest for Clinton

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The Independent Online
JUST WHEN Bill Clinton might have thought he was running out of friends, the black community of Los Angeles - at the epicentre of rioting against authority in 1992 - has offered to stage a rally of support when he flies into town for a fund- raising dinner this weekend.

Minority groups, and blacks in particular, have always been an important constituency for Mr Clinton. Throughout the Monica Lewinsky scandal, blacks have consistently polled as the group most supportive of the embattled President - partly because they see parallels between their own treatment at the hands of the police and judiciary and Ken Starr's dogged pursuit of the President.

And the city that exploded in fury at the police beating of Rodney King, and then chose to acquit O J Simpson because the jury did not trust the police evidence, wants to support him.

James Mays, a black community leader in Watts, south central Los Angeles, said: "We want him to have a spontaneous response from the broad mosaic of residents in South Central, not just blacks but Hispanics, Asians and many others. We want him to look at the young people and adults who really believe in him and let him know he is moving in the right direction."

Community action has been particularly strong since the publication of the Starr report and the airing of Mr Clinton's videotaped grand jury testimony. Maxine Waters, the congresswoman from South Central and a member of the all-important house judiciary committee, made an impassioned speech in Washington, supporting the President. Mr Mays and a group of other activists voted to honour Mr Clinton with a paving slab on their so-called Promenade of Prominence in downtown Watts - the community equivalent of the stars on Hollywood Boulevardinscribed with the names of film legends.

Whether the mass rally will take place is not yet clear. Dr Mays said he had been in touch with White House staff and promised a crowd of five to ten thousand. An answer is expected in the next day or two.

But the gesture is in itself remarkable when much of the political talk in America has been about impeachment, not giving Mr Clinton a leg-up.

The black community appears less perturbed than most by the President's affair and his subsequent denials under oath. According to Geraldine Washington, president of the Los Angeles chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, this is because any wrongdoing is clearly outweighed by the vehemence of the backlash against him.

"What we're seeing is the ideology of a dominant culture that wants to get you at all costs," she said. "We've had similar experiences - how they keep after you until they find your weak point. This is oppressive pressure that we can relate to," she said.

Mr Clinton also enjoys strong support among minority groups for his policies - surprising since he pushed through deep cuts in welfare before his 1996 re-election. "We recognise he needed to do that to get re-elected and we appreciate his efforts to stand up for social programmes, education and health in spite of the welfare reforms," Dr Washington added.

If Mr Clinton can keep minorities on his side and persuade them to turn out to vote in November, it could also allay fears among his fellow Democrats that they are in for a scandal-driven rout. "We are the most vocal, some would say the noisiest, ethnic group," said Dr Mays. "We have the tradition of civil rights and we know better than anyone how to sing `We Shall Overcome'."