Bush affirms governmental responsibility toward inner cities Listeners in L.A. express skepticism


LOS ANGELES -- After viewing up close the physical and emotional scars of this city's trauma, President Bush said yesterday he would try to put together a bipartisan coalition to deliver some long-term relief.

But when he left Los Angeles, where residents say riots could still break out again, all the president could promise was $19 million to combat drug dealers and a determination that the United States will do better by its inner cities.

"I can hardly imagine -- I try, but I can hardly imagine the fear and the anger that people must feel to terrorize one another and burn each other's property," Mr. Bush said at a morning gathering in the heart of the riot zone, shortly before he flew back to Washington. "Government has an absolute responsibility to solve this problem."

His answers were not new. He promised to push again for enterprise zones, a decade-old proposal to allow businesses to avoid a tax on their profits if they invest in cities and employ local residents.

Also on his "agenda for economic opportunity" are programs to allow poor people to own homes and choose their children's schools, and changes in welfare rules so that recipients who work are not penalized.

Many in the audience at the Challengers Boys and Girls Club, an organization that promotes self-relience and self-esteem among young people, complained that Mr. Bush's response was disappointing.

"Drug dealers are not the source of our problem; they are TC result," said Zalikah Templeton, a 15-year-old student at

Crenshaw High School. "Why doesn't he give us more money for schools? We don't have textbooks."

Alley Mills, an actress who stars in television's "Wonder Years" and volunteers at the club, said, "I had really hoped that if he came here, he would come up with something new.

"I'm really concerned that the riots are going to start up again -- that's the talk here. We needed to hear more than he offered today."

Mr. Bush anticipated such complaints: "Our approach is really a radical break from the policies of the past. It's . . . new because it's never been tried before."

The White House has been trying to lower expectations all week about how much the president could offer to help Los Angeles rebuild. He has very little money available and has no intention, given huge deficits, to ask Congress for more.

The $19 million was culled from previously appropriated funds from the Justice Department. South Central Los Angeles will be a test area for a "Weed and Seed" program to "weed out" crime and "seed" social service programs.

Throughout his two days here, the president heard from people who want more federal money for schools and job training, as well as seed money for businesses.

Mr. Bush responded by attacking again the welfare programs of the 1960s, allowing that they had "noble intentions" but arguing that many had not worked.

"If we had set out to devise a system that would perpetuate dependency, a system that would strip away dignity and personal responsibility, I guess we could hardly have done better than the system that exists today," he said.

The boys and girls club where Mr. Bush summed up his visit was a model of the self-help message he is preaching.

Banners across the walls of the old gymnasium admonish: "Never stop dreaming." "Be part of a solution." "Preparation is the key to success." Students are kept busy in their off-school hours with sports and other activities.

The club is supported largely by private donations, with only 7 percent of its budget coming from the federal government.

Mr. Bush took heart that the club building was left untouched by rioters who burned down the block across the street.

But Lou Dantzler, the community activist who started the club more than 20 years ago from the back of a pickup truck, said he could certainly use more federal help. "It's a hell of a struggle for us to stay alive," he said.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Bush stopped at a fire station in Koreatown to pay tribute to the firefighters who worked for days to bring the riot blazes under control.

There, his talk was of the "hoodlums" who had taken their anger out on the city.

"We just cannot condone . . . that kind of violence anywhere in the country for whatever reason," he said. "There's no explaining it. There's no rationalizing it. And I will try to take that message to the country day in and day out."

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