It was not clear last night whether Baltimore or Maryland would be included in the proposed legal action. But in a prepared statement that Mfume will read at a news conference during the NAACP's 92nd annual convention, he mentions Baltimore numerous times, and he names a West Baltimore boy who suffers from lead paint poisoning.
"It is estimated that one in every three children in Baltimore City has an elevated blood lead level," Mfume's comments read. "In Baltimore, Joseph Sturdivant was lead poisoned in a rental unit located on Baltimore's west side. This child has suffered learning disabilities which will be with him for the rest of his life. Unfortunately, if all of the children residing in most of the cities in the United States were tested for elevated blood lead, many more elevated blood lead levels and lead poisoning cases would be discovered and diagnosed."
John C. White, a spokesman for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said the organization learned of the West Baltimore boy from a local lawyer.
"We know the problem exists in Baltimore, but we can't say whether Baltimore has done what it was supposed to do because we haven't researched it yet," White said.
White said lawsuits could be filed within the next month. He said Mfume has been concerned about lead paint poisoning - a serious problem in Baltimore - since he was a member of the City Council.
Baltimore City Councilwoman Catherine E. Pugh said last night that she applauds the NAACP's efforts to help fight lead paint poisoning.
"I think it's an important effort, especially for African-Americans and other people who live in cities throughout this country, because some of the oldest housing stock is in cities where lead paint has been used, and we know it has been used for decades," Pugh said. "Because we recognize we have a problem in Baltimore, we are doing some of the screening that's necessary, but I'm not sure we're doing enough."
Pugh said the city can't afford to do all of the abatement and screening that needs to be done. "We need to support the NAACP's efforts in bringing this issue to the forefront because we need to make industries accountable for the suffering that communities have undergone," she said.
Ruth Ann Norton, executive director of the Baltimore-based Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning, praised the NAACP's plan to file lawsuits on behalf of children who have been harmed by lead paint. She said lead paint poisoning has "devastated generations of children" in the United States.
"It's an issue we can prevent, it's an issue we can end, and the leadership of the NAACP helps pave the road to do that," Norton said. "Clearly, the constituents of the NAACP have been hardest hit, but I think one thing Kweisi Mfume recognizes very clearly and has articulated well is, it is an issue for all children and all families throughout the country, regardless of race and where they come from."
Norton said Baltimore implemented a law a year ago that requires universal testing of all children at ages 1 and 2, but "we have not received word yet on how well the city did over the last year."
In other convention news, Julian Bond, chairman of the NAACP's board, criticized the Bush administration last night, focusing on the president's appointments.
"Bush has nominated a staunch opponent of fairness programs [Kansas City Power and Light Co. regulatory attorney Gerald Reynolds] to head the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights," Bond said. "The only time these people believe in affirmative action is when they find a black person who doesn't."
Bond's nearly 45-minute speech also criticized President Bush's tax cuts.
"The enormous, foolish tax cut recently passed ... didn't just pander to the privileged; it placed future funding for important programs in a lockbox, raiding the treasury for a decade, closing the door on government aid for children, for schools, for the poor," Bond said. "This is government of the rich, by the rich and for the rich."