King Calls For Reducing Number Of Imprisoned Blacks

By JOE MILICIA, Associated Press Writer

CLEVELAND (AP) - Martin Luther King III (pictured, right) shared his vision for justice in the United States Sunday night from the same podium where his father energized an audience nearly 40 years ago.

The president of the Atlanta-based Southern Christian Leadership Conference, speaking with his mother, Coretta Scott King, in attendance, focused on the organization's goals for the coming year.

Black people in the United States must work together to reduce the number of their young men in prison and end police brutality and racial profiling, he said.

"There's something wrong with this nation. We spend more money on incarcerating people than educating people," King said to the cheers of about 1,000 people who packed Greater Abyssinia Baptist Church.

King criticized the privatization of prisons and called on the black community to make their goal the bankruptcy of that industry.

He also lashed out against hip-hop music and gangster rap, saying the music that once was a strength of the civil rights movement is now crippling society. The music degrades women and glamorizes "temporary excitement" that results in long-term pain, he said.

SCLC leaders chose Cleveland for the group's 44th national convention partly because of its chapter's rebirth in the city. The national office revoked the Cleveland chapter's charter in the mid-1990s.

Through the leadership of the Rev. Theophilus Caviness, the chapter has about 1,000 members and got its charter in February. Caviness welcomed the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to the Abyssinia church in 1963. King came to Cleveland to gather support for the SCLC, which he co-founded in 1957 to lead the civil rights movement.

King also encouraged voter registration in support of the campaign of Carl Stokes, who four years later became the first black mayor of a major U.S. city.

King III echoed his father's words by calling for the registration of more black voters beginning with 18-year-olds in high schools.

King, 44, has been president of the SCLC since 1998. Last year, the chair of the national board suspended King for a week and threatened to fire him. Critics accused him of ignoring some of the problems he spoke out against Sunday.

King promised the national board that he would be more focused in his leadership.

He mentioned other concerns, including the need to clean up toxic waste sites, provide health care for poor and older citizens and reduce teen pregnancy.

"We must raise young men to become fathers," he said.

King spoke out against war and questioned U.S. interests fueling the war in Afghanistan.

"We've got all this technology. We can't find this man," King said of Osama bin Laden. "We can't find a man who moves around at night on a pack of donkeys."

The SCLC convention runs through Wednesday and will feature speakers including Coretta Scott King, Harry Belafonte and Judge Greg Mathis.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)