thumbnail of The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour
Hide -
MR. LEHRER: Good evening. Leading the news this Tuesday, President Bush resumed a full workload with no recurrence of an irregular heartbeat. The EPA issued new rules to get lead out of drinking water and Defense Sec. Cheney said all U.S. troops will be out of Southern Iraq by Thursday. We'll have the details in our News Summary in a moment. Robin.
MR. MacNeil: After the News Summary, Roger Mudd reports on the politics of gun control in Congress, and we have a News Maker interview with Speaker Tom Foley. Then Betty Ann Bowser reports on the efforts of Houston's police chief to improve the image of her cops. We have a report from Spencer Michels on a California school that went to the brink of bankruptcy. Finally from Chicago Essayist Clarence Page describes a competition for poets. NEWS SUMMARY
MR. LEHRER: Pres. Bush resumed his usual schedule today. White House doctors said there was no recurrence of the irregular heartbeat that hospitalized him over the weekend. Spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said they were very pleased with his condition. The President joked about the problem, known as atrial fibrillation, during his first appearance of the day, a White House ceremony honoring small businesses.
PRES. BUSH: Thank you all very much. Please be seated and thank you from the bottom of my former fibrillating heart. I got to admit, I am glad to be out of the hospital. It's a little unsettling to turn on the news and see Peter Jennings pointing to a diagram of a heart with your name on it. It's not even Valentine's Day.
MR. LEHRER: The President is wearing a portable heart monitor. Nurses at the White House tracked its read out around the clock. Fitzwater said the President had changed one habit in response to his heart problem. He has switched from regular to decaffeinated coffee. Also later in the day reporters told Mr. Bush his voice sounded strained. He said he had a slight cold. Robin.
MR. LEHRER: White House Spokesman Fitzwater said the President would veto the so-called Brady Gun Bill unless it's part of an overall crime control package. The House of Representatives is scheduled to begin debate on the bill tomorrow. It requires a seven day waiting period before a handgun can be purchased. Rival legislation known as the Staggers Bill would also be considered. It calls for an instant computer check before a gun purchase. Former White House Press Secretary Jim Brady who was shot in the Reagan assassination attempt appeared on Capitol Hill today with his wife, Sarah. They made a last minute appeal for the bill that bears their name.
SARAH BRADY, Gun Control Advocate: The Brady Bill can be implemented now. It can be done quickly, inexpensively and will begin saving lives the minute it's signed. The Staggers Bill is many years and many dollars away and is not a reality.
JAMES BRADY, Gun Control Advocate: We've all throughout the country worked long and hard for this, and I believe this is the year we're going to get it done. Thumbs up for the Brady Bill.
MR. MacNeil: We'll have more on that bill in an interview with House Speaker Foley after the News Summary. Washington, D.C. Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon imposed a curfew again tonight on the predominantly Hispanic neighborhood where rioting broke out Sunday and Monday. More than 50 people were arrested yesterday evening when young people threw rocks and bottles at police and looted local stores. They were dispersed with tear gas. The rioting started after a local man was shot by a police woman. Officials claimed he pulled a knife on the officer.
MR. LEHRER: The Environmental Protection Agency today announced new standards for lead in drinking water. Lead can cause development problems in children and high blood pressure in adults. The new regulations give the nation's utilities 21 years to remove the lead and could force some cities to replace old lead pipes. EPA spokesman Henry Hobicht made the announcement in Washington this morning.
HENRY HOBICHT, Environmental Protection Agency: EPA's putting in place a program that will significantly reduce lead exposures to 130 million Americans within a period of about six years and will bring an additional 570,000 children, children that are greatest at risk from lead exposure, will bring 570,000 children to blood lead levels to below 10 micrograms per deciliter, which is generally viewed as the level of concern or the safety line with regard to blood lead levels in children.
MR. LEHRER: Congressman Henry Waxman, Democrat of California, is chairman of the House, Health & Environment Subcommittee. He called the EPA's plan a tragic step backwards.
REP. HENRY WAXMAN, [D] California: The EPA by their regulations today are abdicating their responsibility. They're shifting it over to the states, the water suppliers. EPA won't even follow what they do after the burden is shifted to the states and the water suppliers. The consequences of it are the children are going to continue to be exposed to lead levels in drinking water that cannot be assured it will be safe enough for them to drink.
MR. LEHRER: Waxman said he would push for legislation to overturn the EPA standard and to impose a stronger one.
MR. MacNeil: Sec. of Defense Cheney said all U.S. forces would be out of Southern Iraq by Thursday. He said it during a visit to the last U.S. troops in the demilitarized zone along the Iraq- Kuwait border. That zone is now under the control of U.N. peace keepers. Kurdish leaders, meanwhile, resumed their autonomy talks with the Iraqi government. We have more in this report narrated by Vera Franckel of Worldwide Television News.
MS. FRANCKEL: Masut Belzani, the leader of the largest Kurdish opposition party, in Baghdad for talks with the Iraqi government is negotiating hard to win concessions for the Kurds. The sticking point is likely to be the question of international guarantees for the proposed Kurdish autonomous region. Saddam Hussein rejects the idea as interference in Iraq's internal affairs. In previous talks he had agreed to grant the Kurds expanded autonomy and has promised free elections, but the Kurds don't trust him. They want European or U.N. guarantees to back up his promises. Meanwhile, Kurdish refugees are filtering down into the safe havens being built by allied troops. Many are still wary about returning, but those who've forsaken the squalid mountain camps are finding a better life. There's drinking water and sanitation and medical centers are near at hand. The allies hope that about 200,000 refugees will have moved to the shelters within weeks. They want to empty the mountain camps before the streams begin to run dry and it becomes impossible to supply the refugees there.
MR. MacNeil: United Nations officials said they were interviewing Kurds in the Turkish camps tomake sure they really want to go home. Officials said refugees should not be returned to Iraq against their will. U.S. troops are preparing to launch an operation later this week to move most of the remaining Kurds in Turkey back to Iraq.
MR. LEHRER: Another disaster hit Bangladesh today. A tornado killed 25 people and injured 200. Relief workers finally reached remote areas hit by last week's cyclone, but bad weather has hindered efforts to get much of the needed aid to survivors. The government has also requested more international donations. It said it needs $670 million in immediate relief, 740 million more to help it rebuild the country. The United States said today it would provide Bangladesh with another 5 million in emergency aid. This is in addition to the more than 2 million announced earlier.
MR. MacNeil: The President of the Soviet Republic of Armenia accused Soviet troops of waging an undeclared war against his republic. He said Soviet soldiers and Azerbaijanis seized three Armenian villages along the border near the Nagorno- Karabakh region. Armenia and Azerbaijan have been fighting over the enclave for three years. At least 15 Armenians died yesterday in the latest unrest. Mikhail Gorbachev defended the use of Soviet troops yesterday, saying they are there to neutralize the armed groups. Yugoslav leaders held an emergency meeting in Belgrade today over some of the worst ethnic unrest there since World War II. They considered an army request to call a nationwide state of emergency after five days of violence between Serbs and Croads that has killed 20 people. The army has threatened to restore order if the politicians do not. That's our News Summary. Now it's on to gun control and Speaker Tom Foley, Houston police, a California school goes broke, and a competition for poets. FOCUS - TAKING AIM
MR. LEHRER: Gun control is our lead story tonight. The House Rules Committee today cleared the way for debate to begin tomorrow on creating a seven day waiting period for the purchase of handguns in the United States. We have a News Maker with the Speaker of the House, Tom Foley. It follows this backgrounder by Roger Mudd.
JAMES BRADY, Former Presidential Press Secretary: [March 21, 1991] I want to spare other Americans from going through what I have gone through for the last 10 years, and I continue to experience every day.
MR. MUDD: It's a piece of legislation that seems to have everything, named after a famous Americans whose poignant story is known to millions, sponsored by 145 members of the House.
EDWARD PRINCE, Father of Victim: I only wish you had an opportunity to know Christian Prince.
MR. MUDD: Endorsed by grief stricken fathers who have lost their sons, supported by hundreds of police chiefs.
ISSAC FULWOOD, Police Chief, Washington, D.C.: It's a choice of life over death. The entire law enforcement community is behind the Brady Bill.
MR. MUDD: Editorially approved by hundreds of newspapers -- embraced by the Gipper -- and blessed with momentum, sent to the House floor by a committee vote of 23 to 11. The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act would seem to be a lead pipe cinch. But it is not quite. First there's a question about what effect the Brady Bill would have on handgun violence, and second, the National Rifle Association has endorsed what appears to some to be a reasonable alternative. The Brady Bill, the seven day wait bill, would require gun dealers to ask the chief of police in the buyer's place of residence to verify using whatever records were available to him that the buyer was neither a felon, a fugitive, a drug addict, a mental defective, an illegal alien, a dishonorable dischargee from the military, or a person who had renounced U.S. citizenship. If the police chief did not answer within seven days - - and he would not be required to answer -- the handgun could be sold. The alternative, the instant check bill, endorsed by the NRA and introduced by Democrat Harley Staggers, Jr., of West Virginia, would require the U.S. Attorney General to establish within six months a continuously operating toll free hotline for gun dealers to call for the same verification. If the government's hotline operators could not furnish the verification within 24 hours, the handgun could be sold. The weakness in both the Brady Bill and the Staggers Bill is that many of the criminal records upon which they rely are neither centralized nor computerized and probably will not be for another two to three years and $40 million. This has left many of the Brady supporters and the Staggers supporters less than enthusiastic. Republican William McCollum of Florida is a Staggers man.
REP. BILL McCOLLUM, [R] Florida: The issue is when are we going to get our records in shape so that Brady or Staggers or anybody else, whether it's a seven minute check or a seven day check, whether it can be effective, more effective? Right now it's going to have limited effect no matter whose proposal it is.
MR. MacNeil: Democrat Lee Hamilton of Indiana recently changed his position to endorse Brady, however tepidly.
REP. LEE HAMILTON, [D] Indiana: Maybe this Brady amendment deserves a try. It's a modest bill, very modest bill. It's not going to change the crime picture in the United States markedly, but at least it's an opportunity.
MR. MUDD: The Brady Bill was last before the House in 1988 and lost by a 228 to 182 vote. The voting pattern was familiar. Support for Brady came mainly from the big states and the big cities where violent crime is a fact of life. Opposition to Brady came from rural America, where owning a gun and hunting with it is a fact of life. But this year that pattern shows some signs of shifting. Breaking ranks have been Butler Derek of South Carolina, Mike Andrews of Houston, Texas, French Slaughter of Culpepper, Virginia, and Lee Hamilton from Indiana's most rural congressional district.
REP. HAMILTON: Traditionally this has been an urban-rural split more than anything, more than ideological, more than partisan split. I think the single most important factor, however, has been the change in the position of the law enforcement people. Change is occurring in small town police, county sheriffs and the like. I think the chief reason for their change is they've seen a lot of their officers shot and they are becoming convinced that if they're going to stop the violence directed at their own people, they're going to have to restrain the presence of guns in their communities.
MR. MUDD: But the most dramatic, at least the most publicized shift in political position came on March 28th. Former President and Mrs. Ronald Reagan came to Washington to mark the 10th anniversary of the assassination attempt and to thank the George Washington University Hospital for his recovery.
PRES. REAGAN: Speaking of Jim Brady, I want to tell all of you here today something that I'm not sure you know. You do know that I'm a member of the NRA and my position on the right to bear arms is well known. But I want you to know something else and I'm going to say it in clear, unmistakable language. I support the Brady Bill and I urge the Congress to enact it.
MR. MUDD: Within two weeks, handgun control, the gun control lobby headed by Sarah Brady, was on the air with TV spots trumpeting the Reagan switch.
PRES. REAGAN: [Handgun Control Commercial] The Brady Bill is good legislation and I hope my colleagues at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue will do what's right for the people. And that means enacting this bill.
COMMERCIAL ANNOUNCER: Join us. Contact your Senators and ask them to support the Brady Bill.
MR. MUDD: At the National Rifle Association headquarters in downtown Washington, the NRA's chief lobbyist, James J. Baker, could only grin and bear it.
JAMES BAKER, National Rifle Association: If Brady's name was on the Staggers Bill, we wouldn't be having this argument. I also find it interesting that for quite some time the media never thought that anything Ronald Reagan had to say was worth, was worth listening to. All of a sudden he endorses the Brady Bill and he's seen as a prophet on the issue. Obviously, we're disappointed. I would conjecture that it has much more to do with his loyalty to Jim Brady and Sarah Brady than it does a substantive look at the issue.
MR. MUDD: These have not been flush times for the NRA. Its membership is down, down from 2.9 million to 2.6 million. Baker attributes that to an increase in the dues and a downturn in the economy. So when the NRA held its annual meeting last month in San Antonio, soon after Reagan's defection, it was time to rally the troops. Their TV spokesman, Charlton Heston, was ready.
MR. HESTON: Our founding fathers understood that the right to keep and bear arms is a natural law basic to human dignity, crucial to the freedom they loved. These patriots had seen tyranny. They knew that a people disarmed is a people enslaved.
MR. MUDD: And Wayne LaPierre, the lobby's new executive director, wanted it known the NRA does not run under fire.
WAYNE LaPIERRE, National Rifle Association: We will fight and we will win, because our cause is the right cause, because we are the NRA.
MR. MUDD: But once the oratory and the specifying were over, the NRA set about trying to convince the public and the Congress that the Staggers Bill would be quicker and more effective than Brady. Once again the NRA brought into play its potent direct mail campaign.
COMMERCIAL ANNOUNCER: Imagine a gun law that police, politicians, and the National Rifle Association support.
MR. MUDD: And on television, there was a full menu of 30 second spots.
COMMERCIAL ANNOUNCER: The Brady Bill is not what you thought. Here's what you want, the Staggers Instant Check Bill.
MR. MUDD: But beyond the PR, there was a necessity to explain why a seven day wait was unreasonable. Republican McCollum of Florida.
REP. McCOLLUM: Seven days is in my judgment not going to accomplish any more than seven hours or seven minutes since the record systems we have can be checked by point of purchase check with a matter of a few moments, going to the telephone system, being able to get into those records that are available, and they're not very good, but the ones that are available for a seven minute or a few hour check are the same records that are going to be checked in seven days. And you can do it in that short of time.
MR. MUDD: The most effective lobbyist pro Brady forces have is probably James Brady, himself. He's an instant reminder of handgun violence. So it's no wonder that when Sarah Brady lobbies on Capitol Hill, she rarely goes without her husband.
SARAH BRADY, Handgun Control Advocate: The police have assured us the seven days gives them the opportunityto run the very best record check they can on available technology. An instantaneous background check is not in the foreseeable future -- it's like a fig leaf that these members of Congress may be able to hide behind. It's just pie in the sky, but in the meantime police say they run very good background checks given time, time to run them manually, time to do what they can do on the computers, but they can certainly do better than they're doing today.
MR. MUDD: Three years ago a shift of 24 votes would have passed the Brady Bill. This year there's been enough repositioning and switching and angling to make this vote too close to call. The outcome will probably turn on the votes of just a dozen members who have yet to declare themselves. NEWS MAKER
MR. LEHRER: Now a Newsmaker interview with the Speaker of the House of Representatives Tom Foley, Democrat of Washington State. Mr. Speaker welcome.
SPEAKER FOLEY: Thank you Jim.
MR. LEHRER: This vote today of the Rules Committee does it mean for all practical purposes that the war is over. That the Brady Bill has been defeated and the Staggers Bill will indeed be the one that passes the House tomorrow?
SPEAKER FOLEY: No indeed I think Roger Mudd's summary was excellent. It is a very close Bill. I would say probably that I think and this is mostly intuition rather than information that the Brady Bill is slightly ahead but I believe that it will be a close vote. And certainly the rule today which was supported by both those who oppose the Bill and support Brady. Those who support Staggers I should say and those who support Brady is designed to be fair to both sides. It is the regular order that the House undertakes in deciding issues of this kind. There is nothing unusual about it.
MR. LEHRER: Well now the wire services disagree with that. The wire services said that the vote of the Rules Committee essentially killed the Brady Bill because, let's go through that Mr. Speaker that this thing is not being misinterpreted. Under the rule adopted today a vote on teh Staggers Ammendement to the Brady Bill first and if the Staggers Ammendment passes doesn't that mean that is the end of it?
SPEAKER FOLEY: That is true but of course if the Staggers Bill passes you have a majority of people who want the Staggers Bill to pass. Now it isn't true, flatly untrue, that this is some final determination of the issue. In fact the Chief Legislative supporters of the Brady Bill recommended as one of the alternatives to dealing with the problem exactly the rule that was granted. It is hard to imagine that the supporters of Brady would ask for a legislative process that would be suicide. It is absolutelym grossly misrepresented in that wire service report. What we've been striving for in the last few days is to find a procedure that would be fair to both sides so that the issue would be decided by the votes of House Members not by arguments that one process or precedure or another precluded a fair determination of the issue. It doesn't do any good to have the vote take place tomorrow after a debate that might be rather intense. And then for months later or years later have one side or the other say we weren't given a fair opportunity for a vote. That would be foolish for the House, foolish for the Leadership, foolish for me as Speaker and I did not want that. As a matter fact I think virtually all the Democratic Members of the Rules Committee are supporters of the Brady Bill, public supporters of the Brady Bill. And they could hardly be persuaded and haven't been persauded to do anything unfairto that position.
MR. LEHRER: So if the Staggers Bill is voted on first that means though that there would not then be a vote on the Brady Bill right?
SPEAKER FOLEY: Well there is a motion to recommit which follows that. It is the decision of the Republican Leadership. The ranking and ordinary members of that Committee, that is Mr. Fischer of New York and Mr. Sensenbraner the Sub Committee Chairman for Wisconsin all publically announced supporters of Brady. They could offer Brady again. But in any case the question suppose the other way around if the Staggers Bill failed, if the Staggers subsitute fails it is almost certain the Brady Bill will pass. The question is where do the votes lie and no one is required to vote one way or the other on these issues. And as I repeat again we've been striving for fairness and both the proponents of Staggers and the proponent of Brady have accepted this rule. The wire report is most unfortunate and totally inaccurate.
MR. LEHRER: Of course has become a very important thing, Mr. Speaker. I don't need to tell you because this was voted on in 1988 it was not voted on in November of 1990 and you were given the credit or the blame depending on who was looking at the result because you would not let it go to the floor. Now that is not the case this time. Is that right?
SPEAKER FOLEY: That is right. As a matter of fact as long as you raise the issue let me just say in the Fall of 1990 I told Jim and Sara Brady who called in my office with other members of Hand Gun Control that I wasn't sure that I was going to schdual it in the wanning days of the last Congress when the Senate did not intend to take it up and when it would die as all Bill dies at the end of a sessions unless passed by both House and signed by the President but I would not be a barrier to its consideration in this Congress and early in this Congress in the event that it cleared the Committee on Judiciary and I would not try to block it in the Committee of the Judiciary. I have kept that promise and this Bill is comming to the floor demonstrates that. Now unfortunately in the months between last November and tomorrow Hand Gun Control has taken the opportunity to misrepresent my position by two national mailings in which they suggested the problem was convincing me to bring it to the floor when every sponsor of the Brady Bill who had any prominance knew that I had promised to bring it to the floor. That was not an issue then and is not an issue now and the committment that I made has been kept. The votes, however, are another question and that is a matter of convincing a majority of the House. As I would say I guess the Brady supporters are slightly ahead but it will depend on where the votes lie tomorrow. It is not a desire on my part or any body elses part in the Leadership to have anything but a fair vote tomorrow and that is what we've designed to do.
MR. LEHRER: How do you plan to vote, Sir? SPEAKER FOLEY: Speaker does not vote on issues. It is very unusual when he does vote except to break a tie and that is what I intend to do tomorrow not vote except to break a tie and I hope there is not a tie.
MR. LEHRER: What is your position Staggers versus Brady? SPEAKER FOLEY: I haven't taken a public position this time. The time before the previous consideration of this Bill in 1988 I voted for the substitute but I want this to be decided by the members of the House without the impossition of any effort on my part to sway their decision. They are going to have to make up their own mind on this issue and they have and will tomorrow.So I will preside over the vote but as usual, as tradtional I will not vote as Speaker unless there is a tie vote as a consequence in the final consideration of the Bill.
MR. LEHRER: BUt Mr. Speaker it is not unusual at all for the Speaker of the House of Representatives to take a strong position on an issue and try to lead the House one way or another toward it?
SPEAKER FOLEY: It is not unusual that if he wishes too I have done that. But most of the votes since I have been Speaker as most of the votes of all my previous predessors have not been votes that have been cast by the Speaker. I probably voted a dozen or more times since I have been Speaker and most of the votes that are cast in the House are not cast by the Speaker.
MR. LEHRER: Many of the stories that I went through a clipping file today. You always identified quotes as a consistant supporter of the National Rifle Association end quote. Is that an accurant statement?
SPEAKER FOLEY: Well it is certainly an accurate statement that I have had an attitide of opposing federal gun control proposals because I have felt them to be both in most cases misleading and in most cases over promising in terms of their results. We have a problem with violence in this society there is no question about that but the question is how far the proposals that have been advanced in the past will work to reduce or control that violence. In this case because as I say I think deceptively Hand Gun Control attempted to make me the obstacle to the consideration of the Bill inaccurately and unfairly I decided to let the two sides of this issue decide as they would normally have to do with out my vote and I am trying to be the person who presides over the House and provides and honest and fair environment that the decision may be taken without my attempting to both preside over the issue and make a decision on the substance as well.
MR. LEHRER: How do you account for the enormous clout that the NRA appears to have with members of Congress?
SPEAKER FOLEY: It is very simple. They reflect very strong feeling on the part of the members and constituants of members of Congress. The silliest argument that comes out in the public press about the NRA is that their contributions to candidates, their financial contributions to candidates have determined their influence. The fact of the matter is that whether you agree with the NRA or disagree with the NRA it has a large and committed and very determined and focused membership. They have strong opinions on these question and they express them. And that is whyn this organization or many other organizations in this country that are concerned about legislation have influence because they represent a point of view backed by individual citizens and constutants who express those views powerfully. Whether it is the NRA or any other organnization of a large size with that kind of commitment it will have impact.
MR. LEHRER: Are your views on this issue formed by your own personal feelings about or by the feelings of your constituants?
SPEAKER FOLEY: My view is that the promises that have been made for Federal gun control registration and so on are way beyond what I think they can accomplish and they create a level of Federal interferance in some cases, proposed interfearance with the ownership of weapons and fire arms which law biding citizens I think have a right to expect their government to honor. But again I am not saying in this case that either proposal is unreasonable or either one is one that I oppose. I am trying to get this issue behind us based upon a fair consideration of the issue by the House. And since I am the person who is going to preside tomorrow, I want this partiocular emotional issue result in its resolution from those who have the votes and the defeated side accept that it just didn't have the votes. Rather than to have endless quarells about who was fair or who was unfair. If I took a position on this Bill and Staggers was adopted or Brady was adopted which ever position that I took I think you would have a clear indication from the other side in a narrow vote that if it hadn't been for me rthey would have won. I don't want that kind of a burden of responsibility. This is an issue the American people have a right to have their representatives decide.
MR. LEHRER: Mr. Speaker thank you very much.
MR. MacNeil: Still ahead on the Newshour Houston Police and community relations, a California school that faced bankruptcy and a competition for poets. FOCUS - HOUSTON BLUES
MR. MacNeil: We turn now to a police story. For the past few years, the City of Houston, Texas, has been trying to improve relations between its police department and the community it protects. But as Correspondent Betty Ann Bowser of public station KUHT reports, a couple of violent shoot-outs last weekend may have undermined those efforts.
OFFICER P.D. HAWKINS, Police Department: Emotionally I was probably to the point of either trying to find a new job or just sitting back and just saying, I'm going to quit, I'll do just exactly what I have to do. And now I'm to the point where if I have an extra minute, I have any free time, I'm looking for something new to do and a lot of people say that's a bunch of bull that an officer wants to do that, but that's job satisfaction in my case.
MS. BOWSER: Two years ago, P.D. Hawkins got out of his police car only when the job required it. Now Hawkins gets out of his police car because he wants to. [OFFICER HAWKINS TALKING TO KIDS]
MS. BOWSER: Hawkins is one of a growing number of Houston police officers who are doing something as old as law enforcement itself, walking the beat, getting to know the neighborhood, participating in what the professionals call "NOP," neighborhood oriented policing. [OFFICER HAWKINS TALKING TO RESIDENTS]
OFFICER HAWKINS: What we want to do and what we've learned to do now is pro active so that we can go into the community, find out what the problems are before they even call us. They know there's a problem there and work with the community in solving those problems before they get out of hand so we don't have to keep reacting to the crime. We start trying to prevent it.
MS. BOWSER: From this store front, Hawkins and his fellow officers police a huge Southwestern neighborhood made up almost entirely of apartment buildings and shopping centers, an area that only a few years ago was crime ridden. Apartment owner Richard Woo remembers.
RICHARD WOO, Apartment Owner: I can see people standing right by the walkway, selling drugs, and also have prostitutes in this area. They go through door by door, knocking on the doors, selling themselves, which is very unusual, but that's the truth. Now this area's completely changed. It's nice, it's quiet, it's clean, and you can walk on the street and without worrying about being robbed.
MS. BOWSER: In 1989, when Woo's family bought the Happy Village Apartments, conditions in them were anything but happy. Woo thought the last place he would go for help would be to the police department.
MR. WOO: I do not like them very much because where I'm from, oriental country, and basically in my mind I think police, the only chance I talk to them is while I'm speeding on the road and they stop me and give me a ticket.
OFFICER HAWKINS: Some of the things I'd ask you to do about taking care of some of the lights and taking care of the trees and things, you've done a lot of that stuff already.
MR. WOO: Oh, check it out. And he came to help me a lot and we start to have this communication and he changed my concepts on these police a lot.
MS. BOWSER: In Woo's case, Hawkins recommended increased security around Happy Village and he encouraged Woo to invest money in repairs, while his officers made routine sweeps through the neighborhood to round up drug dealers. Today the occupancy rate is 90 percent. There hasn't been a single reported crime in the complex in six months.
SPOKESMAN: We have not been timid. We take very decisive action.
MS. BOWSER: Neighborhood policing was brought to Houston in the 1980s by Lee Brown, the city's first black police chief. He believed it was the way to better control crime and improve the image of the police officer in minority communities. Brown did much to heal the wounds inflicted by documented cases of police brutality. He captured national attention in the 1970s.
SPOKESPERSON: Therefore, I Kathryn J. Whitmeyer, mayor of the City of Houston, do hereby proclaim today, Tuesday, January 9, 1990, as Chief Lee P. Brown Day in Houston, Texas. Chief.
MS. BOWSER: When Brown left last year to become New York City Police Commissioner, Houston Mayor Kathy Whitmeyer made another unusual appointment by naming veteran officer Elizabeth Watson as police chief, the first woman to head a big city police department.
ELIZABETH WATSON: My task is not to reinvent the wheel, not to establish a new and different style of policing, but rather to continue building on the foundation that Lee Brown has laid for us.
MS. BOWSER: Under Chief Watson, neighborhood policing has been expanded and changes in police training were designed to produce a more sensitive officer on the street. Today's cadet is taught by role playing to adjust behavior to fit the situation. [TRAINING SESSION]
MS. BOWSER: Because of tougher admission standards, the cadet is more likely to have a college education, be female or of color and physically fit. [TRAINING SESSION]
MS. BOWSER: And all must pass a basic Spanish language course. But even with all the changes, Chief Watson is under attack by leaders in the black community who claim she hasn't done enough to promote minorities to positions of power within the department. Jew Don Boney is a Houston minister.
REV. JEW DON BONEY: Since Chief Lee Brown has left, the good old boy network has come out of the closet and has reasserted control back into that department because they believe that there's nobody at the top that they're accountable to in the same way as Chief Lee Brown, there's no one at the top that is as sensitive to racial issues as Chief Lee Brown. They believe they can get away with it.
MS. BOWSER: Boney cites this newsletter called the Crap Sheet that's circulated at one police station as an example of something that never would have happened under Brown. The paper is full of obscene racist and sexist language. Councilwoman Sheila Jackson Lee was so outraged by the Crap Sheet that she brought it up before City Council and condemned it.
SHEILA JACKSON LEE, City Council: I say there is an undercurrent. I say that the idea that people are different and it's funny or it's something to use in an insulting manner still exists. I think if you want to ask the question whether there are officers who don't understand inner-city communities working for the Houston police department, don't have a sense of respect or appreciation for the difficulty of living in that intense community, I'll say, yes, that is the case.
MS. BOWSER: And Ms. Jackson Lee says the chief needs to say something like this.
MS. LEE: Simply stated, I am the chief of police of the city of Houston, I demand of my police department the best, and as a chief of police, I'm not going to tolerate, stand or bear at any time racism or sexism in this department. And if you think I'm going to bear it or tolerate it, then try me.
ELIZABETH WATSON, Police Chief: Oh, I think she's absolutely right and as a matter of fact, I have delivered that message to those who are in my staff and I have been going around to role calls and delivering exactly that message that I am, in fact, serious about the situation.
CHIEF WATSON: And we'd like to take this opportunity to thank all of you for being here on what is, indeed, an historic occasion.
MS. BOWSER: The chief is so serious that for the first time she brought her entire command staff to this meeting with Boney and some of his colleagues.
CHIEF WATSON: We have a choice to make. Either we will come together and we will work our differences out, or we will have chaos and destruction. There is really no choice.
MS. BOWSER: For more than eight hours, Watson and her staff listened to a steady parade of people complain about racism within the department and both racism and brutality directed at minorities by police officers.
SPOKESMAN: I feel I was treated unfair and discriminated by the police department.
MS. BOWSER: Watson promised to complete overhaul of the department and said she would make details of her plan public in late May. But everything Watson has tried to do to improve community relations with her department may now be undermined by two events that took place the night before this meeting. Twenty- five year old Roger Bedanski held police at bay for nearly two hours threatening to kill himself. He had been stopped on a routine traffic offense. At one point, Bedanski put the gun down and an officer threw him handcuffs. Television Station KTRK recorded what happened moments later. Police said they fired when Bedanski went for his gun. Bedanski is in poor condition in a Houston hospital. Later that same night a black man was shot to death by a police officer who said he thought the man reached for a gun in his car, but no weapon was found at the scene. Watson promised a complete investigation.
CHIEF WATSON: I will not have racism. I will not have brutality in the Houston police department. I will not have it. Officers can use deadly force only to protect life. It's a very explicit policy. It's very simple. It's not hard to understand.
MS. BOWSER: Elizabeth Watson came to power hoping to capitalize on Lee Brown's success in the black and Hispanic communities. Instead, she's trying to regain lost ground. And Houston's five term mayor, Kathy Whitmeyer, is running for re-election in November. In this city, the mayor hires and fires the police chief. Already there are reports that some black leaders want Whitmeyer to dump Watson as a price for their support in the fall. FOCUS - BLACKBOARD BUNGLE
MR. LEHRER: Now an education story. It's about a school district in California that tried hard to dramatically improve its schools and went bankrupt in the process. Spencer Michels of Public Station KQED-San Francisco reports.
MR. MICHELS: Monday morning, April 29th, it was six weeks before summer vacation, but at Hilltop Elementary, they were snapping farewell photos because the school district had gone bankrupt. Principal Barbara Chriss tried to explain this to her students.
BARBARA CHRISS, Hilltop Elementary School: They don't understand it. They ask me, what about the science fair? Our whole year in our science program gears towards the end of the year science fair. What about their reports? What about the carnival?
REPORTER: What about 'em?
MS. CHRISS: They're cancelled. It's all cancelled. And tomorrow afternoon everybody goes home.
MR. MICHELS: Hilltop is in the Richmond School District, California's 15th largest, with 31,000 children. It stretches from the blue collar flatlands around the Chevron Refinery on San Francisco Bay up to the affluent hills just North of Berkeley. Until recently, Richmond seemed a success. The local superintendent had hired hundreds of new teachers and bought new equipment. He'd beefed up individual schools to attract students in a districtwide school choice program. There was just one hitch according to State Schools Chief Bill Honig.
BILL HONIG, State School Superintendent: The problem is you had a superintendent, Walter Marks, who had grandiose ideas about what kinds of programs should be put on, whether they worked or didn't work is a different issue, but he basically spent 20 million bucks more than he was taking in for several years in a row, racked up 50 million dollars of debt, and it all came crashing down this year and he skipped town, was fired and went someplace else.
MR. MICHELS: Walter Marks was fired in December and denies any wrongdoing. He now runs the Kansas City School District. But the rubble in Richmond tells a frightening tale of what can happen when tight money makes the margin for error too slim. Gray Davis is the state controller.
GRAY DAVIS, State Controller: I think they just were freaked when they saw the bills starting to mount up. I tried to offer them some money a few days ago and they said, thank you very much for the money, we're shutting down on April 30th. I said, hey, this is money from me. They said, no, we need it for teachers' salaries in April. I said, I'm paying you in April 27th for April. They said, no, that's for March.
MR. MICHELS: In California, the state, not the local district, controls school funding, so Richmond asked the state legislature for a $29 million loan, but Gov. Pete Wilson wouldn't sign on unless union contracts with school employees were cancelled.
GOV. PETE WILSON, California: The state has an obligation to provide funding for education, a part of the funding for education, but we do not have an obligation to keep afloat the kind of absolutely indefensible profligate spending that was engaged in by the Richmond District..
MR. MICHELS: Without a bail-out loan, Richmond reached the bottom of its pockets at the end of April. The school board announced that the schools would shut down April 30th. [CLASSROOM LESSON]
MR. MICHELS: Monday afternoon, April 29th, 47 schools throughout the district waited for the ax to fall. Teachers sorted their papers and packed up. A group of desperate parents went to court, suing to keep the schools open, but nobody held out much hope.
SPOKESPERSON: You know, they say on a ship, women and children off first, and we are off the ship, but we don't even have a lifeboat right now. We've been thrown overboard.
MR. MICHELS: The lifeboat materialized when a Superior Court Judge declared that the state was required to provide Richmond children with the same education as other California kids.
ELLEN JAMES, Superior Court Judge: This case means continuing to provide education for the elementary and secondary students in the district through June 14, 1991.
MR. MICHELS: The judge ordered the state to come up with the money.
SPOKESPERSON: It took a woman to get the job done.
MR. MICHELS: The next day school was open but the kids were confused.
DEVINA TEASLEY, Student: Well, yesterday we turned in all our books and you know, we were cleaning our stuff out. My teacher was telling us, don't throw away our stuff and like everybody was throwing everything out their locker so whatever people had to turn in, they're going to have to do it all over, because everything was thrown in the garbage. [MEETING]
STUDENT: Can they still close the schools before June 14th?
TEACHER: The question is can they still close the schools --
MR. MICHELS: At Kennedy High School, government teacher Joe Boyd tried to make sense of the situation. [TEACHER TALKING TO STUDENTS]
MR. MICHELS: After hashing out a rescue plan, schools chief Honig and controller Davis converged on the Governor's Office. More than an hour later they emerged without the Governor.
MR. HONIG: There will be a loan, not a grant, but a loan --
MR. MICHELS: Honig and Davis found $19 million to lend Richmond under stringent conditions that require the district to cut its budget by $30 million and start paying the money back within two years.
MR. HONIG: They will not be on a diet of bread and water but if you pardon the expression, it will be lean cuisine --
SPOKESPERSON: We do not in any way, shape or form agree with the Court's order.
MR. MICHELS: The Governor did not sign onto the plan. His education secretary announced that the state would appeal the court order to bail out the schools.
SPOKESPERSON: This essentially would create a state school system and would eliminate any local determination.
MR. MICHELS: The Governor has not asked for a stay of the Court order so the Richmond schools will remain open during the appeal process, but they'll have even less money than other financially strapped districts.
GRAY DAVIS: In California, there are nearly 500 school districts that are currently deficit financing. They're basically on the same path Richmond was on four years ago. Why that's happening we're not entirely certain but we know it's not good news.
MR. MICHELS: The state budget isn't good news either. A recession driven drop in tax revenues has slashed California's allocation to schools. Yet, this state already lags behind the national average in spending per pupil and has the largest class sizes in the country. Students in Richmond may finish the year, but that won't solve the crisis in the California schools. James Guthrie is a professor of education at the University of California at Berkeley.
PROF. GUTHRIE: Richmond is a victim of a whole state system of school finance which is mismanaged. True enough, local malfeasance contributed here, but what one has to understand is that California's entire state system of school finance is brittle and threatens to break in many places, not just Richmond.
MR. MICHELS: The mess in the Richmond schools could have one positive effect if it forces politicians to figure out how to pay for decent schools before it's too late.
MR. LEHRER: And to update that report, California Gov. Wilson has now asked the state supreme court to block the bail-out loan to the Richmond School District. If the court agrees, the schools would be forced to closealmost immediately. A decision could come at any time. ESSAY - RHYMING RUNOFF
MR. MacNeil: Finally tonight Essayist Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune with a story about a place where poetry is serious business.
MR. PAGE: Every Sunday night, the smoky neon atmosphere of this old gangster hangout on Chicago's North side comes alive again, but now with the same old noise. In the prohibition era, the Green Mill hosted stars like Joey Lewis and served such famous patrons as Al Capone, whose autographed picture sits behind the bar like a pagan shrine. Today its fading murals and art nouveau lighting haven't changed much but its entertainment has. There is jazz all week and on Sunday poetry, competitive poetry.
SPOKESMAN: Welcome everybody.
MR. PAGE: Welcome to the poetry slam, a talent contest that's part Star Search and part Gong Show. Competitive poetry? The very idea of it sounds like a contradiction in terms. Yet, even in an age of MTV and remote control channel braving, crowds have been coming to poetry slams for the past five years, paying cover charge to hear theater of the mind where the videos appear in your own imagination.
FEMALE POET: You're going so fast, your imagination following close behind, making up endings for you to focus on, making up finish lines for you to cross, like maybe a house, maybe a big house with a yard and a fence and a family -- or maybe a restaurant, yeah, and you'll be the owner with eat at and your name big and bright in neon cursive across the awning! Wouldn't that be nice, huh?
MR. PAGE: The night begins with an open might for aspiring Longfellows and Furlen Getty want-to-bes.
MALE POET: Upon a slab of cold cement will there sits Rex the Cat, his origins unknown. Of that we know is fact.
FEMALE POET: At first glance others may say she's a clam, because she doesn't open up. As passive as a soldier who takes orders and never speaks up.
MALE POET: One, one, my heart beat twice, my nipple tense like a cat house kill or your heroin teeth, my toes are asleep and my heart palpitates, pumping, one, two, one two --
MALE POET: Trivialized and romanticized, originality dised and until fusenized, until all of the traces are turned upsidedown and forgotten unless, unless you were there, unless you were there. Can being black be monopolized? I said can being black be monopolized? No, I guess what I really meant was who sowed sew --
MR. PAGE: Marv Tate, the current champion and self-proclaimed New Jack poet emotes passionately angry African-American street machismo, the quintessential slammer. You don't have to be a forceful poet to pass the saloon test, but it helps.
SPOKESMAN: This is the way it works. We pick three judges out of the audience. I've got 'em. Then the judges listen to the poems. Poets read the poems. It's very important for the judges to listen to the poems. Then they score 'em one to ten, ten being high. Judges, you can't go into the minus numbers.
MR. PAGE: The quest for Marv Tate's gram slam crown begins with four challengers.
MALE POET: It seems that she loved him more than she loved herself, but now she's changed. She's grown, she's stronger, and she loves herself unimpeded since my daddy died.
FEMALE POET: Billy, Shelly and Tammy -- but seeing as I'm a poet, I'll call them Sebastian, Lulu, and Fifi -- finish up their beers, finish up their pot, finish up their coke, and sit quite for a while, but Lulu, she's thinking, Sebastian acts like he don't even remember our night of illicit love, acts like he don't even recall sing so sweet. Lulu, you got a hell of a nice butt.
MALE POET: While the newscaster sang his life story on the 9 o'clock news called Final Edition the little man in the little cell silently screamed, help me! His emotions plunged into ice water, chilled of absolute fear as gangsters with blue uniforms and swinging billie clubs converged on his twirling dream, each with his mother's head on a chain screaming, in the name of the law, in the name of the law.
MR. PAGE: The first round is won by Eddie Two Rivers, a Chippawa Indian and formerly homeless, with images from his urbanized life. This is poetry for the people and the people decide vocally. Everyone's a critic. When they cheer it is lustfully. When they jeer it is mostly at the judges. The poetry slam does have its critics. Purists don't like it. They say competition betrays artistic integrity, but what do purists know? After all, poetry doesn't have to be low grade to have high impact. Perhaps it is appropriate, the pugnacious times, a time when sports had evolved into wrestlemania, when music has evolved into punk rock, and political discourse has evolved into the McLaughlin Group, but even poetry would turn hard ball, an art performed for little money and ego stroking and the smoky, boozy atmosphere of a vintage bistro, hard ball poetry seems to be a certain poetic justice to a hard ball town like Chicago, the city of big shoulders and the words of another local poet, Carl Sandburg.
MALE POET: Ging nee nee chee, it was a spirit of my ingon that kept me safe and strong when bullets flew and that screamed my beloved brother's name in a fire away war of rights and ideology. When the world push heavy on my Indian soul, I recall your proud run through the springtime of our youth and my head I held high.
MR. PAGE: In the end it's official. Eddy Two Rivers wins -- and heads for the finals. Poetry may never be the same again but then it never is. I'm Clarence Page. RECAP
MR. LEHRER: Again the major stories of this Tuesday, President Bush resumed a full workload with no recurrence of an irregular heartbeat. Tonight doctors said the problem was caused by a hyperactive thyroid condition. They said the President would take medication to control it. Good night, Robin.
MR. MacNeil: Good night, Jim. That's the NewsHour tonight. We'll see you tomorrow night. I'm Robert MacNeil. Good night.
The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour
Producing Organization
NewsHour Productions
Contributing Organization
NewsHour Productions (Washington, District of Columbia)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/507-vd6nz81h9k).
Episode Description
This episode's headline: News Maker; Houston Blues; Blackboard Jungle; Rhyming Runoff. The guests include REP. THOMAS FOLEY, Speaker of the House; CORRESPONDENTS: ROGER MUDD; SPENCER MICHELS; BETTY ANN BOWSER. Byline: In New York: ROBERT MacNeil; In Washington: JAMES LEHRER
Asset type
Social Issues
Military Forces and Armaments
Politics and Government
Copyright NewsHour Productions, LLC. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License (
Media type
Moving Image
Embed Code
Copy and paste this HTML to include AAPB content on your blog or webpage.
Producing Organization: NewsHour Productions
AAPB Contributor Holdings
NewsHour Productions
Identifier: NH-2009 (NH Show Code)
Format: 1 inch videotape
Generation: Master
Duration: 01:00:00;00
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour,” 1991-05-07, NewsHour Productions, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed April 15, 2024,
MLA: “The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour.” 1991-05-07. NewsHour Productions, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. April 15, 2024. <>.
APA: The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour. Boston, MA: NewsHour Productions, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from