Four thousand Army soldiers and Marines sent to quell the recent week's civil disorders were sent home Saturday from riot-scarred Los Angeles, leaving the streets patrolled by National Guard units and a battle-weary police force demoralized by public bickering over their readiness and performance during the unrest.
Soon after the order to withdraw came from Washington about midday Saturday, a force of 2,500 Army troops were packing and boarding transport planes for flights back to their base at Ft. Ord. At the same time, about 1,500 Marines were convoyed south in trucks to Camp Pendleton.
Thousands of National Guard troops remained in the city, and though only a handful were visible in the caravans of Humvees that had overrun much of downtown and South Los Angeles in recent days, more than 9,000 stood by in the event of more violence.
City officials indicated that they expect the Guard to stay at least a few more days before beginning to pull out of Los Angeles.
"We're slowly becoming invisible," said a Guard spokesman. "We're not leaving town, but we are pulling back to our armories and assembly points, such as the Hollywood Bowl, where we're not quite as obvious."
Yet there were abundant signs Saturday that the city was still far from returning to normal:
- As federal troops left, Los Angeles police officers began reassuming their central law enforcement role in rubble-strewn neighborhoods that continue to display flashes of chaos and violence. LAPD officers cut short a demonstration attended by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) against Gov. Pete Wilson's proposed welfare budget cuts and arrested eight demonstrators Saturday after they refused to disperse. Meanwhile, police report that in the days since the riots, there has been a surge in sniping at officers on the streets.
- The morale among many officers, deflated by the Rodney G. King beating incident, the riots and a week of dangerous 12-hour shifts, appears to have hit a new low as a result of continued feuding between high-level police department and city officials over the breakdown in preparations for the verdicts in the King beating trial.
- More details of the Police Department's response during the first hours of the riots in South Los Angeles at Normandie and Florence avenues emerged. Police line officers said that several units attempted a harrowing drive into the mobbed intersection after the first wave of officers had retreated from the scene, only to be ordered back by higher-level officers.
- After pleas from Los Angeles civic leaders and residents for bold action that would speed the city's recovery from the three days of riots, President Bush ignored criticism by Democratic Party officials and said in a radio address that his urban policies will be sufficient to deal with the causes of the nation's worst urban rioting this century.
- After Bush's announcement last week of a $19-million anti-crime and urban development grant to the city, several City Council members argued over how to make the best use of the funds. Council members also debated whether to have Police Chief-designate Willie L. Williams replace Chief Daryl F. Gates before his June departure.
If there was any definitive movement Saturday, it came from the Army and Marine troops heading home.
Wilson, visiting National Guard troops at the Armed Forces Reserve Center in Los Alamitos, announced that federal authorities had transferred their command back to state authorities.
The Army and Marines had already completed their withdrawal from the city on Friday, but remained on alert at the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station and the Tustin Marine Corps Air Station, both in Orange County. During six days in the city, Marines took up positions in Compton and Long Beach. The Army arrived on the scene later on, assigned to patrol the smoky streets of Watts. Neither force inflicted injuries on any rioters, but Guard troops shot and killed a motorist who allegedly tried to run them down.
"I'm very proud of them," said Maj. Gen. Marvin Covault, the commanding general for the 13,000 active duty and National Guard troops sent to deal with the riots. "These are soldiers who are trained for maximum response, and we asked them to use the absolute minimum response. They did it."
Some residents hated to see them go. Jenny Kim, owner of a women's accessory store in Watts, returned to her looted shop for the first time Saturday. As she sifted through the broken glass and other damage, she worried that other businesses might suffer her fate once the soldiers leave.
"If they pull back, I think it's going to happen again," Kim said of the troops.
Some Guard troops were called into action Saturday, backing up a force of Los Angeles police officers as they broke up a demonstration outside City Hall. Eight protesters were arrested after they refused police orders to disperse.