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Children offer hope in US drugs war

THE STORIES about two inner- city children and drugs and danger in America's ghettos have had unusual echoes across the country.

One is about nine-year-old James Darby, who was shot dead on a housing estate in New Orleans. The other is about a 13-year- old girl, Elba Clark from Brooklyn, who says she has learned to turn away from drugs and is teaching her friends to do so too. They have come to symbolise the recurring tragedies and the renewed hopes of America's ghetto youth.

James Darby became so terrified of the shoot-outs on his housing estate that when his school ran a letter-writing project to Bill Clinton he begged the President to do something about crime. 'I want you to stop the killing in the city,' wrote James last spring. 'People is dead and I think that somebody might kill me.

A week later James was walking home from a picnic when a man leaned out of car with a shotgun and pulled the trigger. James was hit in the head and died instantly.

President Clinton's reply this month came too late for James, but his school pals read it. The President promised to answer James's plea 'with tough and smart solutions to the crime problems of America'.

In New York, Elba Clark was one of the speakers at a press conference last week to mark the publication of a new survey suggesting that the attitudes of the city's schoolchildren are hardening against drugs. Anti-drug advertisements run on television and shown in schools, have apparently been having an impact.

In the survey of more than 15,000 children, 90 per cent said taking drugs 'makes you feel bad about yourself', up from 85 per cent in 1992. Only 16 per cent had taken drugs, down from 19 per cent two years ago. These small improvements come at a time when drug use among teenagers nationally is increasing.

The television adverts were sponsored by a coalition of broadcasting, publishing and advertising groups under the banner Partnership for a Drug-Free America.

Elba told the story of her uncle's murder two years ago. He was using drugs, was in debt to his pusher and couldn't pay, so he was shot dead. But all of her friends try to stop others using them.

The children surveyed said they learned about drugs from their parents and schools, but the television commercials had become more influential.