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Talk Is Fine; What the City Needs Is Leadership : Race relations: The pact between Korean-Americans and African-Americans is a fragile first step, not a 'victory.'

October 09, 1991|ANGELA EUNJIN OH | Angela Eunjin Oh, a criminal defense attorney, serves on the Board of Governors of the Korean American Bar Assn. of Southern California as its Asian Concerns Committee liaison. and

In the days ahead, there will be a flurry of activity purportedly aimed at easing tensions between Africans-Americans and Korean-Americans in Los Angeles.

An uneasy truce has been called between organizers of the boycott of Chung's Liquor Store and store owner Tae Sam Park. This was a necessary first step toward a healing process that is far from complete. Those who took part in creating this moment of peace are well aware that the underlying issues that gave rise to the boycott still have not been addressed. So where do we go from here?

Both the mayor's office and the office of Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas used their influence to bring critical players together. Certainly the responsibility to act rested with each of them. On the one hand, the mayor is the most prominent elected official in the city. If he ignored the problem, the blame for any resulting disaster would surely be laid at his doorstep. Ridley-Thomas is the council representative for the area in which this boycott took place. If he remained silent, it could only be construed as a sign of complicity in the dangerous path being taken by the boycott organizers. Aside from going through the press opportunities together, where will our leaders take us?

The challenge they face is great. The African-American community has declared victory in this "struggle for dignity and self-respect." Who had to pay the price for this victory? Who will be expected to pay the price in the future?

Unlike the African-American community, the Korean-American community sees no "victory." We recognize that peace for Park is a good thing. However, we are uncertain whether the sale of the store, with the first right of refusal held by the Bethel A.M.E. Church and the Brotherhood Crusade, who comprise the African American Honor Committee, is fair. We are uncertain whether the prohibition on the sale of the store's liquor license is just. We are uncertain whether Park's departure will have a deterrent effect on future disputes that arise between Korean-American merchants and their African-American patrons. We take issue with the idea that Korean immigrants are so stupid that they must take "classes" on how to treat their customers with respect. In short, we have doubts about the things to come.

Our expectation is that the mayor and the entire City Council will now move out from "behind-the-scenes" negotiations and into the leadership role that the public has long expected and deserved.

The ambitious proposal announced will require the commitment of substantial resources--both fiscal and human. Our hope is that the African-American business community will join in creating employment opportunities for all of our city's youths, not just Korean-Americans and African-Americans. We look to the City Council to hire and fund human-relations positions within the understaffed city Human Relations Commission and community-based dispute resolution centers. We ask that members of the boycott organizing committee join us at the table to begin organizing to get major service and financial institutions to commit to our communities.

Everyone has been talking the talk. Now let's see who is willing to begin the walk.

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