Crime-bill Foes Call Preventive Programs "Pork." On The Streets, There's Another View. They Cry Foul At Assault On Midnight Basketball

Posted: August 18, 1994

To President Clinton, midnight basketball is an important component of his $33 billion crime package. To Washington politicians who oppose him, it's a $7 billion side of social pork.

For the young men who come in off the street, midnight basketball can be the last chance to get a high school diploma. The last chance for much-needed

drug counseling.

Midnight basketball can teach them how to write a resume and help them find a job.

It isn't pork.

Proponents of midnight basketball say they resent the Republican assault on the prevention component of Clinton's crime bill. Some say the political onslaught was merely another attack on a segment of society that has become the scapegoat for America's urban ills: young minority males.

"They once again have targeted inner-city minority males as the evil ones, the ones who are taking America down because of all the waste," said the Rev. Luis A. Cortes Jr., executive director of Hispanic Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity and head of a Norris Square community development corporation. ''It's just a farce."

"I'm outraged," said Michael F. DiBerardinis, Philadelphia's recreation commissioner. "I've been fuming about this for two weeks. I can't believe people have the nerve to call this pork. To me, that's racist, anti-youth and anti-big city."

He and others point to a two-year-old Salvation Army nighttime basketball league as a model of what such programs can accomplish.

That league, started by Lt. John Ducksworth in 1992, required players to participate in some other human services activity such as a GED program, substance-abuse counseling, male support group or resume writing.

The league attracted 200 to 300 people in its first two years, said Ducksworth.

The winter league played games from 10 p.m. until 2 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, he said.

The league has drawn widespread praise.

"Instead of spending their time on the corners, they were there playing basketball," said Philadelphia Police Capt. Melvin L. Blake, commander of the 22d Police District in North Philadelphia.

However, deterring a young man from crime - while less costly than incarcerating him - can

not always be done on the cheap.

Ducksworth said the Salvation Army basketball program costs about $194,000 per year.

The league starts up again in October, according to Capt. E. Lewanne Dudley, Germantown Corps commanding officer.

Under the Clinton crime bill, more such programs likely would have been started. In fact, DiBerardinis said he had hoped to fund additional midnight leagues with some of the $171 million in crime-prevention money slated for Pennsylvania.

But in a parliamentary move last Thursday, the House voted 225-210 to block Clinton's crime bill from coming to the floor - with 58 Democrats joining 167 Republicans to derail the proposal.

The $33 billion bill contains $7 billion for a wide range of crime- prevention programs. It would put 100,000 new police officers on the streets, ban assault-style firearms, mandate life terms for some third-time felons, and build new prisons.

Some opponents attacked the assault-weapons ban and complained that the $7 billion was merely social pork masquerading as crime prevention.

And 10 members of the Congressional Black Caucus opposed the bill because it lacked a "racial justice" provision that would have allowed defendants in death penalty cases to appeal their sentences if they could prove racial bias in their prosecutions or trials.

Far from the corridors of Washington power - where President Clinton was frantically trying yesterday to save his bill - the folks at Hank Gathers Recreation Center in North Philadelphia were cooking up a little pork.

Only they didn't consider it pork at all.

The Father's Day Rally Committee and the city Recreation Department are starting a midnight basketball league.

The Twilight Time basketball league will start Aug. 29 at Gathers, 25th and Diamond Streets.

The first city-sanctioned midnight basketball league will consist of six teams of 12 players each, ranging in age from 19 to about 35, said Joe Ferraro, recreation director at the center.

Games will be played from 10 p.m. until 2 a.m. Play will continue for about two months, and the league will cost about $3,500, he said - which does not include Recreation staffers' salaries or administrative or overhead costs.

"The response from the people in the community has been overwhelming," Ferraro said. "The people in the area are very, very excited about it."

One player who already has signed up is Jay Wells, 26.

"I just like to play basketball," he said. "Basketball kept me straight. If it wasn't for basketball, I'd be out there doing a lot of dumb stuff."

The Father's Day Rally Committee - formed by African American men five years ago to promote positive images of African American males - wanted to sponsor a midnight basketball league to counter the temptations of the streets, said Bilal A. Qayyum, head of the organization.

He said a counseling component would be phased in later.

"They (Republicans) want to put more cops on the streets," Qayyum said. ''But putting more cops on the streets and not getting rid of assault weapons is really just putting more targets on the streets. These guys shoot cops, too."

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