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State of Alert: Many LA residents fear repeat of 1992

violence as scars from riot remain


THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS
March 28, 1993, Sunday, HOME FINAL EDITION, 1A

By Ed Timms
Staff Writer

LOS ANGELES — There are the scars of the heart and scars on the streets.

Jin Lee operated a grocery store in Compton. It was looted and burned during the riots last April.

Mr. Lee won’t be coming back. Now, the neighborhood has no grocery store. His two former employees,
one black, the other Hispanic, are unemployed.

Andy Uribe manages a video store in South-central Los Angeles that was burned out. The owner reopened
with his own money but has had trouble getting insurance.

“If it happens again, that’s it,” said Mr. Uribe, 28. “I’m out of a job, and my boss loses everything.”

Almost a year has passed since riots erupted over an all-white suburban jury’s decision not to convict four
white Los Angeles police officers accused of beating black motorist Rodney King. But time has healed
little.

Empty lots and the scorched shells of buildings are common in the stricken areas. So are boarded-up
storefronts untouched by fire. Only a fraction of the businesses that were destroyed are coming back.

Many of the merchants who remain are arming themselves, afraid that riots will explode again next month
at the conclusion of the officers’ ongoing federal civil rights trial.

Angelenos also fear that a pending case threatens new strife. Three black defendants charged with beating
white trucker Reginald Denny during the riots are scheduled to stand trial April 12.

And relationships remain strained among minorities — primarily African-Americans, Hispanics and Korean-
Americans — who uneasily share the poorest neighborhoods in the Los Angeles area. During the riots,
stores owned by Korean-Americans especially were targeted for looting and destruction.

It was the nation’s worst urban violence in this century: more than 50 people dead, nearly 2,400 injured and
property losses estimated at $1 billion.

Yet many who know the worst-hit neighborhoods say white outsiders are too quick to use race as the
primary explanation for the anger and frustration that raged for three days beginning April 29.

“As long as the problem is being identified as one of ethnic minorities’ not being able to get along together
— and the proposed solutions continually revolve around getting together, holding hands and liking each
other — nothing’s going to change,” said Joe R. Hicks, executive director of the Southern Christian
Leadership Conference of Greater Los Angeles.
“There are no mysteries to be revealed here,” he said. “Economics and economic discrimination are at the
root of this problem.”

Twenty-seven years after Watts exploded in 1965 we have the LA rebellion again in ‘92. And the same
conditions that exist in LA are found in other major cities. They’re simmering and almost anything can set
off this kind of explosion.”

“The politics of race,” added one community organizer, focused on black participation, playing down the
role of other ethnic groups.

“Blacks kicked it off because of the King verdict,” said Levi Kingston, director of a nonprofit child-care center
for low-income families. “There were a lot of poor Latinos who jumped into the game too … You’ve got too
many have-nots and not enough haves.”

Better times

Mr. Lee, 28, echoed that economic analysis.

His father, he said, was one of the first Korean grocers to settle in South-central Los Angeles in the 1970s
and had good relations with his customers. Father and son were active in helping create the Black-Korean
Alliance, an organization formed to improve relations.

As economic conditions worsened in the area, he said, animosity toward Koreans grew.

“Some black people are angry because Koreans don’t live in South-central Los Angeles,” said Mr. Lee, who
now manages a family motorcycle dealership in Tujunga. “They are angry because Koreans buy a nice car
and move into a white area.

“Middle-class black people, they don’t live in South-central LA. They move out. Who wants to live in South
central LA, for God’s sake?”

Stuart S. An, 48, a prominent architect in Koreatown, said there is a pattern of ethnic groups making their
start in South-central or Koreatown and moving “up the Valley’ into affluent suburbs.

“Koreans have businesses there because they can’t get a job anywhere else,” he said. “They’re buying a
job.”

For other immigrants as well, South-central has been a first step toward the American dream.

Elias Abdella, 27, an Ethiopian immigrant, opened a beauty supply shop in South-central LA after the riots.
He has lived in the area seven years.

An electrical engineer by training, he couldn’t find a job. “I think I can make a living with this,” he said, but
he prays that there won’t be another riot.

But it is the Korean newcomers around whom so many myths — and so


much distrust — have swirled, Korean-Americans say.

Family business

One common myth, said Mr. Lee, is that Koreans won’t hire other minorities. The reality, he said, is that in
most of the businesses, “everyone you see is related.”
“When I was young, I worked for nothing for my father,’ he said. “I’m not going to work for someone else
for a dollar an hour, with no vacation, 16 hours a day.”

Several Hispanics — but no blacks — work at the grocery store in Koreatown managed by Roy Kim, 34.
That, he said, reflects the applicants and the neighborhood around the store, where a security guard was
killed during the riots. “We have had black employees,” he said.

Mr. Kim, a first-generation Korean-American, noted that Koreans come from a racially homogenous
homeland and often have trouble understanding other cultures. But, he added, Koreans also “tend to be
ignorant of what is going on in the community. ‘

“And when you do business in a community,” he said, “you should reinvest in the community.”

Contractor Pete Peterson, 53, is all for that.

“I’ve been a contractor for 32 years,” said Mr. Peterson, who is black. “But never in 32 years, not one lousy
job from a Korean business owner. They don’t give no work to nobody but their own kind.”

Mr. Peterson said he had nothing against Koreans.

“They’re basically good,” he said. “But their culture doesn’t allow them to be friendly. They come to
America, and they’re still clannish.”

And that attitude, he said, encourages resentment.

“You can’t live in my neighborhood and don’t share,” he said. “Those people don’t assimilate. You got to
give and take. If you can’t give and take, something is going to give.”

Mr. Peterson also doesn’t buy the argument that Korean merchants can’t afford to hire minorities. “You see
them driving new Mercedes 500SLs. Their kids got Corvettes, but they say they don’t make enough money
to hire people in the neighborhood,” Mr. Peterson said. “If there wasn’t money in it, why
would they come here in the first place? Why would they come back?”

Slow recovery

In fact, the area’s recovery has been halting at best, and Mr. Peterson acknowledged as much.

Mr. Peterson is supervising the reconstruction of a strip center in South-central. Behind his trailer are the
cinderblock walls that once housed several stores. Rebuilding in the area, he said, has “mostly
been slow.”

“Most insurance companies have not been settled,” he said. “And a lot of people were uninsured.”

In response to residents’ longstanding complaints of too many liquor stores in the depressed areas, liquor
store owners who were burned out now must go through a hearing before being allowed to
rebuild.

Mr. An, the architect, said he empathizes with those who want to limit the number of liquor stores in their
neighborhood. But, he added, “Koreans were not the ones who opened the liquor stores there. Someone
else did.”
Ownership of the buildings and businesses in South-central reflects the waves of immigrants who have
passed through. Mr. Peterson said a Jewish businessman owns the strip center he’s rebuilding. Video-
store manager Uribe, who is Hispanic, works for a Chinese-American.

Many of those owners, Mr. An said, simply took the insurance money for their losses and are not planning
to rebuild.

“It’s hard to blame them,” he said, but the neighborhoods likely will deteriorate more as a result.

The riot-affected areas have been targeted by several government programs aimed at improving community
relations, decreasing unemployment and helping merchants re-establish. But the pervasive belief on the
streets is that any change has been for the worse.

Cedric Farmer, 30, talks about the economics of South-central Los Angeles at the street level. He stands
outside a recreation center where dozens of young black men pass the time playing dominoes or
basketball.

Easy way out

“It’s easy to make money,” said Mr. Farmer, a lifetime resident of a neighborhood where drive-by shootings
and despair are part of the norm.

“Robbing, stealing, drugs, insurance moves … You can work the system, get general relief.”

What’s hard, he said, is getting a job. And convincing a young man he shouldn’t sell drugs or steal when
he has little hope of getting a paycheck.

Mr. Farmer said he gets by doing a lot of different jobs. He also works with Mr. Kingston, the community
organizer and day-care center operator, trying to keep youths in South-central Los Angeles out of
trouble.

“The economics make it hard,” said Mr. Kingston. “They got the women. They got the car. They can take
care of mama. What are they going to do if you take that money away? . . . You’ve got to have
something else to offer.”

Mr. Farmer, who acknowledges that he has had problems with the law, is tired of “black folk selling dope to
black folk.” And he’s tired of “brothers killing brothers.”

“Little kids get hit, old ladies, old men sitting on their porch get hit. No telling who’s going to get hit,” said
Mr. Farmer. “Brothers have a lot of firepower these days. You get two cats shooting 9 millimeters with
those 16-round magazines, and you get cats returning fire, that’s a lot of lead flying.”

He isn’t optimistic about the future.

“Everybody’s being pushed,” he said. “Everybody’s wound up tight with the economy, with the drugs, with
the (King) trial. A lot of people are frustrated and angry. And they don’t have an outlet for it.”

He also isn’t optimistic that the announced gang truce between the Crips and the Bloods will hold — and in
fact, hasn’t.
“The older brothers have got married,” he said. “They’ve got kids. They’re tired of the killing. It’s the younger
cats who are like loose cannons. They got guns, and they want to get stripes.

“The streets have a history too. They hear what their brothers did or their uncles did.”

Tired of funerals

But Mr. Farmer said he is “tired of going to funerals.”

“It’s like a common occurrence, at least once or twice a month,” he said. “A lot of funerals, I don’t even go
… I’m tired of crying and looking down at people I know in caskets. It makes me angry.”

One of his brothers has been wounded repeatedly in shootouts.

Another brother was shot in the base of the neck and lived several years as a quadriplegic before dying at
age 46. Mr. Farmer still carries a pistol.

“Everybody got to have a gun,’ he said. “That’s how you stay alive.”

He pointed to the walls of the rec center. “We got bullet holes here. I got bullet holes in my house. If you
play basketball, you ask ‘Who’s got heat?’ If you got heat, and you want to play, I say ‘Let me hold your
heat’ … Somebody has to be heads up all the time.”

Many merchants take the same view.

The only uniform at Mr. Steve’s pawnshop is a pistol under the belt. If the armed employees aren’t enough
to deter would-be robbers or looters, the owner’s Rottweiler might make an impression.

The pawnshop’s 34-year-old owner, who asked not to be identified by name, moved to a new address after
the riots. His original store was burned down.

If another riot comes, he said, “We’re ready.” He doesn’t want to talk about what else he has in the store to
deter looters.

Mr. Hicks, the SCLC leader, said more strife is inevitable if the area’s long-festering economic ills are not
confronted. The future, he said, may be “almost a Blade Runner scenario” — referring to the
science fiction movie set in a multiethnic Los Angeles where poverty and street-level anarchy are held down
by a police state.

“You’ll never have enough police if all you do is just put things down and go away,” said community
organizer Kingston, “even if you do bring in the military. What relationship does that have to providing any
kind of future?”

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