April 1, 2006

Bill Cosby tells New Orleans blacks to reject crime

By Russell McCulley

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Entertainer Bill Cosby urged New
Orleans' black population on Saturday to cleanse itself of a
culture of crime as it rebuilds from the devastation caused by
Hurricane Katrina last year.

Cosby, whose criticism of some aspects of modern
African-American culture has stirred controversy in recent
years, told a rally headed by black leaders that the city
needed to look at the "wound" it had before Katrina struck.

"It's painful, but we can't cleanse ourselves unless we
look at the wound," Cosby told the rally of about 2,000 people
in front of the city's convention center.

"Ladies and gentlemen, you had the highest murder rate,
unto each other. You were dealing drugs to each other. You were
impregnating our 13-, 12-, 11-year-old children," he said.

"What kind of a village is that?"

Cosby sparked heated debate in 2004, when he criticized
blacks whom he said were putting a higher priority on music and
fashion than on education and morality.

Before Katrina killed more than 1,300 people and displaced
hundreds of thousands, New Orleans had nearly half a million
residents, 70 percent of them black. An estimated 30 percent of
the city had incomes below the poverty line.

Less than half the population has returned to the heavily
damaged city and evacuees remain scattered across the country.
Many of those who have come back are whites who lived in
affluent areas that were less affected by flooding.

Other speakers, including civil rights activists Jesse
Jackson and Al Sharpton, denounced what they said was an
attempt by state and federal officials to disenfranchise the
evacuees in April 22 local elections by not setting up
out-of-state voting stations.

Jackson said evacuees should be allowed to vote in
"satellite" polling places outside the state, just as Iraqi and
Mexican expatriates have cast ballots from the United States in
elections in their home countries.

"If we in fact can use this technology for
Mexican-Americans and Mexico, then we ought to," Jackson said.
"If we can use this technology for Iraqi-Americans in America
to Baghdad, then we ought to. We can use the same technology
for New Orleanians, wherever they are in America."

Voting stations will be available at 10 sites in Louisiana
outside of New Orleans, but state officials have said casting
ballots outside the state is not allowed.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, who is black and faces 21
challengers in his re-election campaign, said not enough was
being done to guarantee a fair vote.

"We deserve to be treated like Americans," he said.