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More Tired Than Angry, City Watches Denny Case : Law: Many are less concerned with trial of motorist's attackers than with failed efforts to rebuild their area.


In the parking lot of Deryl's Hand Car Wash near the intersection of Florence and Normandie avenues, 21-year-old Lamont Robinson has no idea that the case that once riveted his neighborhood is finally going to trial.

He was there that April day a year and a half ago when the block went up in flames. He saw the truck belonging to Reginald O. Denny stopped in the street, its door open and its driver gone.

But after living through five days of rioting, two trials of the police officers involved in the beating of Rodney G. King and more than a year of turmoil that has brought scant change to his neighborhood, he is now bone tired of it all.

"I got too many other problems," he said. "Too much conflict. Too much. It's history."

Across town, Robinson's words are echoed in the pastel stucco suburbs that just three months ago were preparing for the possibility of a new round of rioting after the second King beating trial. People there, like those at Florence and Normandie, now wonder when the city will declare itself healed.

"This case needs to get over with so we can all get on with it," said Tom Paterson, a member of the Valley Village Homeowners Assn. "You have to move on and I'm ready."

As jury selection begins today for the trial of Damian Monroe Williams and Henry Keith Watson--charged with assaulting 12 people on April 29, 1992--Los Angeles is a city that seems to be slouching toward one of the closing chapters in a long and tortured tale.

"I'm tired of dealing with it. I'm tired of talking about it," said Kerman Maddox, a well-known activist in the black community and a political consultant. "A lot of people are saying, 'Whatever it brings, let's just get it over with.' "

Less than a year ago, the Denny beating case was seen by many African-Americans as the symbolic twin of the case that started it all--the King beating.

The cases flashed through the city like mirror images of each other. In the King beating it was white police officers who beat a black motorist. In the Denny case, it was black youths who attacked a white motorist. Both became powerful images ingrained in the public mind through the power of the video camera.

For many African-Americans, the treatment of the defendants in the Denny case drove a stake deeper into their psyche of the corruption of the system.

How could the police officers in the King case walk free, while the Denny defendants were still locked up? Why did they face sentences that would keep them behind bars forever when a Korean-American woman who killed a black girl was given probation?

"They didn't throw the book at these men, they threw the whole bookcase," said supporter Naomi Sutton in December.

The seven men charged in connection with the violence at Florence and Normandie became the "LA4+." They became a cause.

"(The defendants) have come to symbolize the entire rebellion," said supporter Roland Freeman.

To many others, though, the beating represented nothing less than an act of wanton brutality and of the impotence of law enforcement to deter it.

Over the past year, the case has changed dramatically. To begin with, three of the seven original defendants charged with crimes that occurred at Florence and Normandie--Anthony Lamar Brown, Lewis Curl Foster and Gary Williams--agreed to plea-bargain their cases. The trials of Antoine Eugene Miller and Lance Jerome Parker are pending.

More importantly, the perceptions of the Denny beating case have changed. A powerful influence was the guilty verdicts in April for Los Angeles Police Sgt. Stacey C. Koon and Officer Laurence M. Powell in the beating of King.

"When the jury came back with those guilty verdicts, that took a lot of wind out of the balloon," Maddox said. "Most people were arguing for justice in the King case. We got some justice."

Support for the defendants has also been tempered by a deep ambivalence about the violence of the attack on Denny. "I don't think people were jumping up and down in the street saying these kids are innocent," he said.

Still, as they did during the second King trial, Los Angeles police are prepared for the possibility of violence during the Denny trial. The trial had been scheduled to take place at about the same time as the second King beating trial earlier this year and a plan was already in place to handle both events at the same time.

Los Angeles police officials say that, once again, the department is considering placing officers on tactical alert during deliberations and a citywide mobilization when the verdicts are returned.

"What you saw at the King trial is what you will see during the Denny trial," said LAPD spokesman Lt. John Dunkin.

Although the national and foreign press corps will be here in force, no one is now expecting the kind of free-for-all that occurred during the King civil rights trial. This time, Itsuki Iwata, bureau chief for the Japanese daily Yomiuri Shimbun, said there simply is not the same degree of interest.

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