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Civic Leaders Ask for Calm Response to King Verdicts : Peacekeeping: Clergy members and others will continue to plead this weekend for nonviolence. Students are targeted for the message.

April 08, 1993|KIRSTEN LEE SWARTZ | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

LONG BEACH — Dozens of civic and religious leaders and police officers are fanning out across the city, encouraging residents to remain calm as the Rodney G. King civil rights trial winds down in a Los Angeles federal court.

The peacekeeping effort began with visits to three high schools the past week where leaders urged students not to take to the streets when the verdicts are announced.

The group plans to make similar appeals this weekend in the city's parks, on street corners and in various businesses.

"We don't want young people reacting to each other," said Councilwoman Doris Topsy-Elvord, who helped arrange the school visits. "This is not their fight."

The effort is one of several precautionary steps being taken to prevent a recurrence of the rioting last spring in which a motorcyclist was killed and hundreds of businesses in Long Beach were destroyed. The unrest followed the not guilty verdicts in the state trial of four Los Angeles police officers involved in the beating of King.

Over the past year, for example, virtually the entire police force has undergone special training in quelling disturbances, police officials said.

The city also plans to set up a telephone hot line, which would be activated if an emergency is declared, to dispel rumors and provide other emergency information. The city hopes to have the hot line installed by the end of the week. It would be staffed 24 hours a day during an emergency, city spokeswoman Joan Caterino said.

Cambodian leaders have been encouraging business owners who fear unrest this year to refrain from using weapons to protect their property. Business owners, instead, have been encouraged to board up their store windows with plywood, said Bryce C. Chy, project director for the Cambodian Assn. of America.

The organizers of the citywide peacekeeping effort also said that after the verdict, residents can come to the Gospel Memorial Church, 1480 Atlantic Ave., to discuss the trial's outcome.

"We'll have rap sessions," Topsy-Elvord said. "When these kids say, 'Why not join them?' I say, 'Why not lead them?' "

The citywide effort was launched by Community Action Committee, a group of about 30 ministers and activists that first met after last spring's disturbances.

In March, the clergy members began making appeals for calm at various religious gatherings. Last week, the group took its appeal to city high schools, addressing all first-period classes at Polytechnic, Jordan and Wilson high schools. They were joined by six police officers out of uniform.

Of the 1,103 arrests made during the unrest in Long Beach last year, 145 were juveniles. However, officials noted that residents under age 25 can often be the most volatile. "We've got a generation of kids who, unfortunately, don't see a lot of hope," said Anthony Rogers, a teacher at Polytechnic High School. "It's important to get them to see that they do have options."

Rogers' African-American history class listened quietly recently as Topsy-Elvord urged students to stay calm after the federal civil rights trial of four Los Angeles Police Department officers accused in the King beating.

If the officers are acquitted, "we know you'll be upset," she said. "But think about Dr. Martin Luther King . . . about people who settle things by peaceful means."

During a discussion after Topsy-Elvord departed, some students said they were skeptical that people will remain calm after the verdicts.

"It's a new generation of people," said 17-year-old Ryan Pearson. "Their way is violence."

Rogers pointed out that there have been disturbances throughout history. "This is not just about your generation," the teacher said. He said it is important that students understand there are other options for resolving conflicts.

Other students said they would encourage friends to join them at the Gospel Memorial Church after the verdicts, and expressed hope that the rioting of last spring would not be repeated.

Long Beach Hot Line

A telephone hot line will be activated in Long Beach to dispel rumors and provide other information if an emergency is declared after a verdict in the Rodney G. King civil rights trial. The hot line number, (310) 597-5707, will be operated 24 hours a day by city employees. A second number, (310) 986-9057, will give recorded information.

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