In what police said is an indication that some black street gangs conspired to target victims during the Los Angeles riots, officers Tuesday arrested 22 suspected members of a Venice gang for allegedly looting a Korean-owned stereo store and beating a white bicyclist.
The suspects--all of whom have criminal records--are accused of storming Jung's Car Stereo on Lincoln Boulevard during the second day of unrest, shattering glass display cases and making off with an estimated $80,000 worth of high-tech equipment in less than two minutes.
A videotape of the incident made by the store's security camera shows a crowd of young men pushing their way through the unlocked front door and carrying off armloads of stereos and speakers. As some loaded the equipment into cars double-parked out front, Los Angeles police said, other gang members directed stunned motorists around the brief traffic jam.
"This was definitely organized--no doubt about it," said Detective Matt Blake, an officer in the anti-gang CRASH unit. "I couldn't have cleaned that store out so fast without some planning."
Although police acknowledge that much of the looting that began April 29 was a spontaneous reaction to the not guilty verdicts against four officers in the beating of Rodney G. King, they also contend that some street gangs took advantage of the unrest to try to cement their dominance.
The arrests in Venice, made during a series of pre-dawn raids, are among the first to suggest that a specific gang plotted an attack. But officers suspect that other gangs embarked on similar missions during the outburst to enhance their leverage in post-riot Los Angeles.
"These guys with their so-called peace conferences and negotiations . . . are basically saying: 'Give us all we want and we won't shoot up the city anymore,' " said Lt. Brad Merritt, the commanding officer for the West Bureau's CRASH unit, at a news conference announcing the arrests. "That sounds like old-style Mafia extortion to me."
But in the Venice neighborhood of Oakwood, where most of the suspects live, Tuesday's arrests were viewed by some residents as an effort to harass gang members because they have announced that they no longer want to war among themselves.
"Now that Bloods and Crips have stopped tripping on each other, the police are worried that the focus is gonna be on them," said Damon Campbell, 42, a resident of Brooks Avenue, where several of the search warrants were served.
Ray Martin, 30, who described himself as a former member of the Venice Shore Line Crips--the gang that officers targeted--said: "The police are just using the looting as a ploy to shake these guys down. It's a guise to see what's going on in their homes."
In a meeting Tuesday of the Los Angeles Police Commission, a top LAPD official said the department plans to continue monitoring "unity meetings" between rival gangs that have been held at various sites in South Los Angeles since the riots, despite complaints from some in the community.
Cmdr. Ron Banks said some officers are eager to use the meetings to arrest wanted gang members, but added that police do not want to upset a "delicate balance" by interfering with gang members' right to assemble in public.
"We are trying not to be intrusive into their right to meet and where to meet," Banks said. "But at the same time, we still have to be vigilant."
During Tuesday's 5 a.m. raids, which police described as the largest single search for a group of rioters so far, detectives said they seized about $10,000 in stolen electronics equipment, as well as eight firearms, several boxes of ammunition, a military-issue flak jacket and a small amount of rock cocaine.
Twenty suspects were taken into custody and two more agreed to turn themselves in later in the day, police said. At least five gang members are being sought. The suspects were being held at the West Bureau Jail, awaiting arraignment on charges of burglary and assault with a deadly weapon.
On the afternoon of April 30, as widespread looting swept Los Angeles, members of the gang allegedly beat a white bicyclist, who was knocked unconscious but later recovered, police said. Then they descended on the car stereo shop that James Jung has owned for 11 years, cleaning out the uninsured shop owner's entire stock of equipment.
Although police believe Jung was targeted because of his nationality--he and the only other merchant to suffer damage on the block are of Korean descent--the 50-year-old immigrant is not sure.
"It's just very hard," said Jung, who reopened his store Monday. "Some nights--no sleeping."
Times staff writer Richard A. Serrano contributed to this story.