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White L.A. Now Feeds on Wild Rumors

April 18, 1993|Mike Davis | Mike Davis is the author of "City of Quartz: Excavating the Future of Los Angeles" (Routledge, Chapman & Hill)

For the last month, too many Angelenos have behaved like the monster-threatened, stampeding populace in a 1950s sci-fi thriller. They have mobbed gunstores, boarded their windows, overwhelmed "rumor con trol" centers, looted supermarket shelves of bottled water and toilet paper and prepared for imminent flight. The mass-hysteria level hasn't been this high since Orson Welles broadcast "War of the Worlds" two generations ago.

Our "anticipation anxieties"--to use the deadpan jingo of a prominent radio-shrink--have been whipped into dementia by doomsday pronouncements from leading institutions. Thus the security department of one of our largest universities warns faculty to leave town a day ahead of the decision in the Rodney G. King federal civil-rights trial to avoid the "panic-stricken gridlock" of a mass exodus. Like skittish cattle, the employees of tony downtown law firms and advertising agencies prepare to bolt for the Valley at the slightest sneeze from a juror.

The current municipal nervous breakdown might be laughable (just call it the latest fad from the Coast), if it wasn't so fraught with cruel omens. The oldest demon of California history--the Vigilante Man--has reappeared on the crabgrass frontier between "us" and "them." Encouraged by politicians "tough enough" to send 15-year-olds to the gas chamber, white fear has been allowed to arm itself behind barricades and "No Trespass" signs. Openly racist paranoia has been patted on the back.

As a result, it is becoming more perilous for people of another color to innocently wander through certain hillside and valley neighborhoods. Mayor Tom Bradley's Neighbor-to-Neighbor volunteers are probably wasting their time appealing for calm in South Los Angeles, where it already exists.

Instead, they should be going door to door in Hollywoodland, Porter Ranch and other affluent tracts where temperaments are the most hotheaded and intolerant. Let the city establish some "guns for jobs" programs on the Westside, and send some sports celebrities to Encino to help troubled homeowners say "no" to prejudice.

The relentless obsession with black rage and black violence is just that: an irrational obsession. In point of fact, it has been white rage and white violence--grimly immortalized on two minutes of videotape--that have brought this city to the brink of panic. And it is black people who have the most to fear in its streets.

Last fall, a white doorman at a trendy Hollywood nightclub owned by a famed movie star's brother murdered two black patrons. They were unarmed and, according to witnesses, begged for their lives. The club--still open--had long been accused of discriminatory practices.

As quickly as it takes to say the words "Reginald Denny," how many of us know the names of the victims or the name of the club?

"Hypocrisy," a famed local journalist once wrote, "spreads over the city like a vast fungus." Just call it the Blob that ate L.A.

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