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In General, Calm Is the Word for L.A. : Poll shows optimism across wide segment of the population

What Next For Los Angeles? One in a series.

April 13, 1993

The mood is decidedly calm, though not relaxed, in Los Angeles as a jury deliberates in the Rodney G. King federal civil rights trial. Nearly 60% of area residents describe their neighborhood as calm, according to a Los Angeles Times poll. That encouraging sentiment is shared broadly, regardless of race, ethnicity, class or geography, and despite fears that the coming verdicts could trigger new civil disorder.

Those who see their areas as calm include whites, Latinos, African-Americans and Asians, and that description includes the San Fernando Valley and the Westside, despite unsubstantiated but pervasive rumors that street gang have targeted those areas. The poll also found no evidence that residents of the outlying areas, which were spared during last spring's riots, were more fearful of renewed violence than residents of the close-in neighborhoods. Tensions were highest in areas hardest hit after the acquittals in the state case, according to the Times Poll.

If there is trouble, the majority of Angelenos believe that it will be much less severe than before. The disorder last year resulted in 53 deaths, 2,400 injuries, 1,400 damaged or destroyed buildings and the loss of 11,500 jobs.

In contrast to some news broadcasts suggesting that every other Southern Californian is buying a gun and packing ammunition, the poll found that only 4% had bought a firearm in anticipation of another urban explosion. Most wisely prefer to leave protection to the police.

Police preparation is one reason for the cautious optimism. Los Angeles Police Chief Willie L. Williams continues to get high marks for the improvements he has wrought within an LAPD that was all but invisible as the unrest surged last year. The high visibility of law enforcement reassures many. Yet 50% of Angelenos fear a police overreaction might trigger trouble.

Those fears are pronounced among African-American and Latino youths, who historically have been discriminated against by police. But Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) warned in a CNN interview: "If you take to the street with a Molotov cocktail, with a gun in your belt, you will be killed. The Los Angeles Police Department is primed to keep the peace."

Several ministers warn that any disturbance in the face of the massive show of force that is developing amounts to a death wish. The buildup includes 600 National Guard troops, already at area armories.

"I'm very concerned, with all the military apparatus that is surrounding Los Angeles right now, that the people who live in South-Central Los Angeles may in fact become isolated from the rest of the United States," the Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., the new national executive director of the NAACP said in a TV interview. "Law enforcement officials have the responsibility to keep order. . . . But I want to make sure we don't go too far and wind up doing something that is provocative." In urging peace, Chavis is expected to walk the streets of Watts today with ex-gang members.

Children are perhaps the most fearful at this time. During a visit Monday to the Manchester Avenue Elementary School in South-Central Los Angeles, Mayor Tom Bradley reassured youngsters that they will be safe.

Staying calm is the immediate task for Los Angeles. The people are doing a good job of that so far. More challenges face Los Angeles after the verdict--both in dealing coolly with whatever the jury's decision is, and in dealing seriously with the remaining economic and social needs of the city.

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