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A Community Stands on Faith : Spirituality: As they await the outcome of the King civil rights trial, Angelenos are turning inward, holding firm to a guiding belief that the city can survive troubled times.

April 14, 1993|CHARISSE JONES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Geraldine Haynesworth is standing on the steps of her church, ruminating on religion and Rodney G. King.

The police officers accused of violating King's civil rights may or may not be found guilty, she says. This city may or may not erupt. But, she declares with conviction, you can always count on one thing--the righteousness of God.

"If you're pinning all your hope on the verdict in this case, you're pinning your hopes on man," says Haynesworth, a 46-year-old parishioner at St. Brigid Catholic Church in South Los Angeles. "Man is frail. We have to look to the greater good."

Faith. For many, it is the foundation of their existence, the guiding belief that helps them survive troubled times. And many Southern Californians say they are counting on it more than ever as Los Angeles braces for the outcome of the historic federal civil rights trial of four officers in the beating of King.

From downtown street corners to South L. A. church sanctuaries, people say they are praying for calm in their hearts, peace in their city--and for justice.

Some who have always been devout say they have attended religious services more often in the last few weeks. Others, who describe themselves as not particularly spiritual, say they now find themselves frequently talking to God--asking that they and their families remain safe in the wake of the verdicts and that any civic tensions be quickly soothed.

Although several religious leaders say they have noted no dramatic increase in their flocks, some say they have sensed rising apprehension among congregants during the course of the trial. They say it is natural for people to seek comfort in a higher being at this time and to want to believe there is a force that will be in control no matter what.

"God never promised to protect us from any disasters," cautions Father Jarlath Dolan, pastor of The Church of the Transfiguration, a Catholic church in Mid-Wilshire. "But he did promise to be with us no matter what happens. . . . The role of faith here is to allow God to be God. We do what we can--but having done that, we leave it in His hands."

Still, there are those whose faith was dramatically shaken last April, when the four policemen were acquitted. And they say they can no longer find solace in worship and prayer.

"I don't believe Jesus is in my corner because he has not given (blacks) a break yet," says Rashad Mwai, 35. "The young people aren't thinking about Jesus. We're thinking about justice."

Justice, of course, can be defined in many ways. And the prayers calling for it are as varied as the people doing the asking.

Mila Turcato, 40, a loan processor attending a Good Friday Mass, would not say whether she wanted the officers to be found guilty or innocent, only that she prays God will be a presence in the jury room.

"I hope God will guide them," Turcato says of the jurors, adding that she and her family have been attending church more often and praying profusely for peace.

Says Eunice Ko, 34, whose family store in Koreatown was badly damaged during last year's unrest: "I don't pray about what the verdict should be. I do pray that whatever the verdict will be, it will be fair and make everyone happy."

Even if everyone is not satisfied, Ko says, let there be no more violence: "We pray to God whatever happened last year won't happen again."

The Kos were at home, thinking the chaos was confined to South-Central Los Angeles, when a phone call alerted them that the alarm was ringing at their electronics store in Koreatown.

When the alarm company refused to check on the shop because of rioting in the area, the Kos went themselves. Their store at Olympic Boulevard and Western Avenue had been looted and damaged.

"It was one of the first targeted (during) the riots," Ko says. The destruction amounted to more than $400,000.

Ko admits she briefly wondered why her family and people had to suffer so. "But that was only for a moment," she says. "My family and I felt that through the act of hardship, the Korean community could grow. . . . Because of the riots, we got closer to the black community. At least the community leaders are talking, and some of the (Korean) market owners may have changed their attitudes."

Others, however, are not so forgiving. They say the only safeguard against a repeat of last year's rage is a fair decision by the jury. And fairness, to them, means one thing.

"They should be found guilty," says Peg Anderson, a Palmdale woman who has not hesitated to make such a request of God. If the officers are acquitted, she warns, history may repeat itself.

But Lois Lockard, for one, says she cannot bear to go through it again. Last year Lockard was at her job as a typist in the city clerk's office, listening to the radio in disbelief as she heard the refrain "not guilty." When the verdicts are announced this year, Lockard says, she does not want to suffer through the same emotional turmoil.

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