Rev. Jackson on HUD Secretary, Bennett Comments

The Rev. Jesse Jackson responds to comments made by U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson about New Orleans' black population, and also on radio host Bill Bennett, who said a reduction in crime could hypothetically come by aborting black babies. "That would be an impossibly ridiculous and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down," Bennett said.

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ED GORDON, host:

This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Ed Gordon.

As the plans to rebuild New Orleans get under way, there's been a lot of speculation as to whether the Big Easy, in fact, will remain a majority black city. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson said this week it will not. He told the Houston Chronicle, `New Orleans is not going to be as black as it was for a long time, if ever again.' Several black leaders have taken issue with Alphonso Jackson's pessimistic assessment, including the Reverend Jesse Jackson. He joins us now from Detroit.

Reverend, good to talk to you.

Reverend JESSE JACKSON: Good morning, Ed.

GORDON: Reverend, so much has been made of this comment. Alphonso Jackson suggests this is just plain and simple a point of fact, that there are thousands and thousands of evacuees who have said they are not going to come back. He says this is not an issue of race.

Rev. JACKSON: Well, the displaced citizens have the human right to return home and should have preference on jobs, job training and contracts. The opposite is taking place. And so Alphonso Jackson, in his Houston Chronicle editorial, let the plan out of the bag. He says it would not be majority black again, which means that he intends to leave many citizens in permanent exile. He says the Ninth Ward should not be rebuilt again. Well, these positions are coming from the secretary of Housing and Urban Development, so they take on certain credence. And there's a conflict, therefore, between the federal government's plan and the local government's plan.

GORDON: Reverend, he also has suggested that black leaders, including yourself, are doing nothing but stirring up racial animosity with comments like this.

Rev. JACKSON: President Bush, his boss, said in his address from New Orleans that we've seen the face, he said, for the first time of the intractable problem of poverty and unacceptable race discrimination. His boss acknowledged that. Condoleezza Rice, secretary of State--her way of saying it obliquely was this is a Southern way of life. The reality is that you have the problems of ineptitude, the problem of lack of preparation. A combination really of race and poverty and class was exposed, but it's much deeper than that.

I'm at the two shelters in Detroit yesterday, where people are anxious to come home. They can't afford to get back home, and while there are good jobs now for cleanup taking place, they have been, in fact, given under-prevailing wage, under-prevailing wage rates to exploited workers from maquiladoras.

GORDON: Before we let you go, Reverend, I can't do so without getting your take on a comment made yesterday by a man you've known for a long time, former Reagan Education Secretary Bill Bennett on his syndicated radio program. Of course, it's drawing strong rebukes. We'll listen to that first and then get comment from you.

(Soundbite of radio program)

Mr. BILL BENNETT (Former Reagan Education Secretary): One of the arguments in this book, "Freakonomics," that they make is that the declining crime rate, you know, they deal with this hypothesis--that one of the reasons crime is down is that abortion is up. Well, see...

Unidentified Man: I don't think that statistic is accurate.

Mr. BENNETT: Well, I don't think it is either.

Unidentified Man: Yeah.

Mr. BENNETT: I don't think it is either, because first of all, I think there's just too much that you don't know. But I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could--if that were your sole purpose--you could abort every black baby in this country and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down.

GORDON: Bill Bennett on his syndicated radio program yesterday, talking about the book "Freakonomics," which takes an interesting view of different statistics. Ofttimes, strange analogies used to look at what numbers can be talked about, but the comment there--and you've known this man for a long time--is stunning, Reverend Jackson.

Rev. JACKSON: What's disturbing is that this man was once secretary of Education and has out a book on "virtues" and is seen in many circles as one having scientific truths and moral authority, which makes him dangerous for the element that he represents, many of whom are now, in fact, in powerful policy positions in our government.

GORDON: And let me ask you, very quickly, Reverend, do you believe that this is a pattern that we are seeing in terms of growth with the ability to say this kind of thing in public?

Rev. JACKSON: Well, of course, it is, but the ideology is that whether it is the lineage of 246 years of slavery or Jim Crow or reaction to Dr. King's leadership, there's a certain ideology in our country that is unfortunately sick and racist...

GORDON: Yeah.

Rev. JACKSON: ...and dangerous and violent, and that's why the struggle for civil rights and social justice and equal protection for all Americans and all citizens must continue. When the media referred to citizens displaced as refugees, it's part of the same mentality that sees us as something other than, different from, not enough of. It's painful, but it's real. It should not break our spirit, but we should all be very aware and not be naive.

GORDON: All right. The Reverend Jesse Jackson joining us from Detroit this morning. Rev, thanks for joining us.

Rev. JACKSON: Thank you.

GORDON: We should note that NEWS & NOTES has invited both Bill Bennett and Housing Secretary Alphonso Jackson on the program to elaborate their respective issues and points of view. We'll wait to hear from them.

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