Ventura College student Nathan Davis struggled to articulate his feelings on hearing about the not-guilty verdicts reached in the trial of four white policemen accused of beating black motorist Rodney G. King.
"I felt as though somebody had hurt me or hurt my family," said Davis, 26, president of the campus' African-American Alliance Club. "As a black man, I feel racism every day."
The Oxnard resident, a history major, was one of several speakers who expressed their outrage over the verdicts in an emotional noontime rally Friday attended by 450 students and faculty at Ventura College.
The forum was hastily put together by student leaders because there has been "a lot of rage, anxiety and nervous talk" on campus since the verdicts were announced Wednesday, said Ricardo Melendez, one of the organizers and president of a campus Chicano-rights organization.
Students were encouraged to take the open microphone and talk about their feelings upon hearing the verdicts and witnessing the violent aftermath that has swept through Los Angeles.
Many speakers said that although they were stunned by the verdicts, the response was too drastic.
"Protesting is a good answer to the problem. Looting and violence is not," said Billy Ray Davis Jr., 26, Associated Student Body president. The Oxnard resident, who is black, is studying history and business.
But several others said the violence that erupted in South Los Angeles is the reaction of people who feel desperate and powerless.
"What we have going on in South-Central Los Angeles is a war. It is a revolution," said Ola Washington, who teaches African-American studies at the college.
"They are fighting for freedom, justice and equality, and they are not going to stop fighting until that becomes a reality."
Nathan Davis and other black speakers said institutionalized racism exists in Ventura County, but that it is difficult for whites to understand its subtle form.
"If you are not aware of racism and what it is like, you need to take a class to find out how it works," he said. "It is covert, not overt."
Stan Duffy Jr., 21, an Oxnard resident and physics major, noted that the audience was filled not just with blacks, but also with whites, Latinos and Asians.
"I don't think our government reflects the colors that are out here today. I think we need to change the government to make it reflect these colors," said Duffy, who is black.
Many black students echoed Duffy's belief that the way to bring about change is to vote for politicians who will address poverty, inner-city decay and minority repression.
"We can't wait for someone to do it for us. We have to do it ourselves," said Patricia Ray, 34, a black Oxnard nursing student.
Jovani Milton Prince, a black film student from Oxnard, said African-American students need to unite and work together toward common goals.
For instance, Prince said blacks should not use racial slang among themselves. "If you can't respect each other, nobody else will respect us either."
A few white students and instructors also took the stage to say they were outraged by the verdicts.
"It doesn't matter if Rodney King was black or white--he was a human being," said Kami Van Fleet, 19, a Ventura communications major.
"The real issue here is that the police are allowed to beat the hell out of someone. That's not right," said Danny Robinson, a 42-year-old psychology student from Ventura.
The two-hour rally ended with the students joining raised hands and swaying while singing the civil-rights anthem "We Shall Overcome."