NAACP to focus on law enforcement, elections, TV networks in annual meeting

Saturday, July 7th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ NAACP leaders starting their 92nd annual convention Saturday have been working on a five-year plan for the group which they expect introduce during the weeklong conference, in addition to tackling issues of criminal justice, election reform and diversity on television.

Experts say it's a good time for long-term planning, as a reinvigorated NAACP, with 500,000 members, works on an increasingly diverse set of problems.

``Five years ago, the NAACP was, nationally at least, a basket case,'' said David Bositis, a senior political analyst at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a Washington think tank focusing on black issues.

``The leadership was old and tired and it was clear that they needed some new direction, something to give them a renaissance,'' he said. ``To a considerable degree, it's happened.''

Under the leadership of NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, many feel the group has regained the relevance it had during the 1960s, when former executive director Roy Wilkins organized marches, sit-ins and freedom rides across the South.

The group has recovered from a budget deficit and a scandal surrounding former head Benjamin Chavis, who was ousted in 1994 for allocating NAACP funds to quiet sexual harassment allegations against him.

In the five years since Mfume took over, the NAACP has worked to increase turnout by black voters, pressured the four major television networks to commit to more ethnically diverse programming and helped remove the Confederate flag from above the South Carolina Statehouse.

But there's more to do.

``Particularly in the area of the criminal justice system, there's still just a lot of outright, old-fashioned discrimination,'' Bositis said. And indeed, one workshop during the convention, which runs through Thursday, will be devoted to law enforcement.

A new report on minorities and the television industry is also expected to be released, and a workshop is scheduled on voter empowerment and election reform.

In this census year, some are also urging black leaders to reach out to other minority groups. Civil rights issues are changing with the growth in Hispanic and Asian populations, said Angelo Ancheta, legal director at the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University.

``They don't fit into a black-white model. That's largely how we've been operating,'' Ancheta said. ``It's important for the NAACP to play a strong leadership role in building bridges with different communities.''

The NAACP must also develop programs to deal with joblessness, AIDS and disparities in education, said Robert C. Smith, a political science professor at San Francisco State University.

Up to the 1960s, the NAACP's agenda was clear _ push for laws to end racial discrimination, Smith said. Today, the solutions are more complex, he said.

``If you ask the best minds in the country how to address the problem of the miseducation of black kids, aside from saying more equitable resources, they would be hard-pressed to come up with answers,'' he said.