Pubdate: Sat, 06 Dec 2003
Source: Times and Democrat, The (SC)
Copyright: 2003, The Times and Democrat
Author: Lee Hendren


The eyes of the nation will be focused on South Carolina through its
first-in-the-South Democratic Party presidential primary in February.

What will they see?

Will they see "the New South of economic growth and prosperity?" civil
rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson asked a packed audience Friday at South
Carolina State University in Orangeburg.

Or will the "Cotton Curtain" be pulled back to expose disputes over the
Confederate battle flag and the observance of the Martin Luther King holiday
and allegations of police brutality against minorities?

"What kind of reputation do we want to get?" Jackson asked. "The challenge
for South Carolina is to move from racial battleground to economic common
ground to moral high ground."

Jackson led the audience in a chant: "Beyond color. Beyond culture. Up to

However, it was racial issues that brought Jackson back to the state of his
birth. In a series of appearances Thursday evening and Friday, Jackson
decried the activities of "overzealous police" in suburban Charleston.

First there was a drug search at a high school. Security camera photos
showed students cowering as law officers -- with their guns drawn --
searched students, buses, lockers and corridors.

"And they found nothing," Jackson said. "What a traumatic experience" for
the students.

Days later, in broad daylight, a half-dozen "overzealous" police officers
descended on an unarmed man after he left a supermarket, "jabbing and
stabbing" the man with long sticks. The man was subdued -- and then died.
"Such an unnecessary use of force," Jackson said.

Similar incidents in Los Angeles, New York, Cincinnati and elsewhere have
left black men dead or seriously injured at the hands of white police

"There is something insane about this overreaction to black men," Jackson
said. "These police need psychological examinations. What are they acting

Jackson said he will return to the Charleston area on Dec. 16 for a major
demonstration to protest the police actions and to launch the Southern
Crusade for Racial Reconciliation, Voter Registration and Shared Economic

"I want you all to be there in big numbers because this is about justice,"
Jackson told his Orangeburg audience. His appearance was sponsored by the
SCSU Student Government Association and the NAACP.

Jackson noted that "2.2 million Americans are in jail; that's more than any
other nation on Earth." Although most of those arrested are white, half of
the people in jail are African-American, he said.

It's not unusual to see bail set at $1 million for an accused murderer,
Jackson said. Yet bail was set at $3 million for entertainer Michael
Jackson, whose alleged crimes, while serious, fall way short of homicide.

And what about radio commentator and conservative icon Rush Limbaugh,
accused of illegally obtaining painkillers?

"His crisis should illuminate the issue," Jackson said. Limbaugh was
accorded "dignity and due process and no humiliation -- and that's the way
it should be" for all defendants, regardless of race.

"He's been handled with kid gloves, in great contrast to how blacks are
treated," said Jackson, again referring to the way authorities handled the
arrest of Michael Jackson.

"And so we see the state of our criminal justice system," said Jackson, who
believes "rehabilitation, education and skills training" are far preferable
to incarceration of nonviolent offenders.

Fairness was a common theme of Jackson's speech, not only in the criminal
justice system but also in the areas of trade and taxes.

President Bush has been in office long enough for conclusions to be drawn
about his economic and foreign policies, said Jackson, who noted that South
Carolina has lost 80,000 jobs in the last three years.

Jackson says he, and the Rainbow PUSH Coalition he founded, respond to pleas
for assistance from low-income and laid-off whites because "it's the morally
right thing to do. ... We're all God's children!"

The black-majority audience applauded heartily.

Jackson also got a positive reaction from the audience when he invoked two
modern-day and real-life versions of the Good Samaritan parable in the

When white police officers beat black motorist Rodney King in Los Angeles,
it was a white photographer who was responsible for grabbing the images and
bringing national attention to the incident, Jackson said.

And later, when a white motorist got caught by a mob in a riot, it was four
black people who rescued him -- and took him to a hospital named in memory
of Martin Luther King.

Sure, issues like the Confederate flag and the King holiday raise passions
and grab headlines, but "we need to get the agenda out of the emotional
diversions," Jackson told reporters.

"The big fight in this state should be trade policy and the Wal-Martization
of our economy," he said. "The challenge is to get South Carolina to vote
its economic hopes and not its racial fears."

Most low-income Americans are not black; they're white, said Jackson. And
they're not on welfare; "they work every day. They work at Wal-Mart without
insurance. They work at fast-food places. They work at hospitals where no
job is beneath them, where they don't have insurance, so they can't afford
to lay in the beds they make."

Shrinking federal dollars have forced universities to raise tuition and
local governments to "lay off police and firefighters and teachers," Jackson

Yet the government can afford to cut taxes for the richest 1 percent of
Americans and spend $87 billion on international projects, primarily the
rebuilding of Iraq.

"If we can bail out Iraq, we can help out Orangeburg," Jackson said to
cheers and applause.

Jackson ran for the Democratic Party nomination for president in 1984 and
1988 but told reporters making another bid for elected office is "not on my
present agenda."

One of his sons, who is a congressman, has endorsed former Vermont Gov.
Howard Dean.

The elder Jackson said he has "chosen so far not to make that decision" and
probably won't endorse any of the Democratic candidates before the

But he did observe that "other candidates are playing catch-up," adopting
policy positions first stated by Dean.

Rather than endorsing a particular candidate, Jackson urged his listeners to
get registered to vote. "Too many Americans misread the importance of their
vote," he said. "Every vote counts. Our votes matter."
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MAP posted-by: Josh