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Forum to Explore How to Cope in Riot : Preparedness: Organizers aim to educate residents without raising fears about possible reactions to verdict in King beating case.


SAN GABRIEL VALLEY — Although the San Gabriel Valley emerged relatively unscathed from last April's riots, community organizers are planning a forum where anxious residents and merchants can learn how to prepare for another civil disturbance.

Dubbed "San Gabriel Valley Shield: An Emergency Preparedness Forum," the April 3 event is designed to walk a fine line: educating worried residents while staving off hysteria as the federal trial in the Rodney G. King beating case nears a verdict.

Organizers say the community forum will focus purely on the practical questions that arise in any major disturbance, but some who plan to participate see it as an opportunity to examine the San Gabriel Valley's own issues of ethnic conflict.

The idea for the forum originated with the Chinese American Coalition, a fledgling organization that has worked to help those among the county's Asian community who lost loved ones and businesses during last year's rioting.

Although the forum's sponsoring organizations are predominantly Asian-American, organizers are hoping for a broad-based event. Representatives from the NAACP Pasadena Chapter and Latino community leaders and business associations have been invited. Also, area city council members and law enforcement officials, representatives from chambers of commerce, and school board officials throughout the western San Gabriel Valley plan to attend the forum at Rosemead's Community Center, organizers said.

"A lot of people have talked to us throughout the past year and said they didn't know what to do, or who to contact (during the riots). So we think it's very timely," said David Ma, a co-founder of the Chinese American Coalition and a forum organizer.

A Monterey Park woman with a family grocery business in Long Beach sent two of her sons to check on the business, and one was killed on the way, Ma said. An educational forum could help prevent similar tragedies, he said.

"Property is not that important compared to a life. They have to be aware: Don't venture out to risk your life," he said.

But Ma and others are quick to add that the San Gabriel Valley suffered little in last year's disturbances. The forum is designed to put the minds of residents and merchants at ease by answering their questions.

"We don't want to create hysteria about this new trial. Of course, we cannot disassociate our thoughts from the last riot. Because of the last riot we think we should be more prepared," Ma said.

"We organized (the forum) with last year's riot in mind, but we are not thinking that another riot is imminent. We just think everyone should learn how to protect themselves during any civil disturbance."

Although Alhambra has opted to focus on its own community education campaign rather than attend the event, the forum has met with broad support. Police departments from El Monte and Monterey Park and the Sheriff's Department plan to send representatives.

Chambers of commerce from Rosemead, Monterey Park, Temple City, and San Gabriel and elected officials from Monterey Park and South Pasadena have volunteered to take part. And community groups--including several Chinese organizations, an Indo-American umbrella group and United Way--also plan to attend, said Louis Kuan, an Alhambra businessman and another forum organizer.

"I'm a businessman in Alhambra, close to Los Angeles. Thinking back to last April, I thought we were very, very fortunate not to have some of the same devastation," Kuan said. However, the federal trial, in which four Los Angeles Police Department officers are accused of violating King's civil rights in the 1991 beating incident is "a possible flash point for civil unrest," he said.

"Irrespective of the outcome of the trial, we owe ourselves preparation beforehand," Kuan said. "We would want to know where to tune in for information. I want to know in a practical term, how do we padlock our doors or board up our stores, or is this totally unnecessary? Should we prepare just as we prepare for an earthquake, or something different?"

The forum will generate a report that will be distributed to businesses and residents through participating chambers of commerce and school districts, Kuan said.

"It's worth it to me because I know that my business will be somewhat protected," Kuan said. "It's a deterrent. It's absolutely a deterrent--for people to know that if you're even thinking about coming to these cities, don't even think it. The best way to fight a battle is not having one."

Some see the forum as a way for Asian-Americans to contribute to the larger situation by calling for calmness, said Govind Vaghashia, president of the Federation of Indo-American Assns. of Southern California, an umbrella organization representing about 150,000 Indians in Southern California--about 3,000 of them in the San Gabriel Valley.

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