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THE TIMES POLL

A Decade Later, Residents More Upbeat

One in a series about the 1992 riots

April 29, 2002|JEAN MERL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The passage of time has smoothed some of the edges that the 1992 Los Angeles riots carved into citizens' psyches.

During the decade that has passed since the city endured three days of looting and burning and 54 deaths, residents gradually have come to view their city more positively, a Los Angeles Times poll has found.

Angelenos express more satisfaction with their communities and the Police Department, and see the city as less racially divided than in the months and first few years after the rioting. Fewer are inclined to view the riots as unjustified.

Blacks continue to have a grimmer outlook on the city than other groups, a historical tendency attributed to a legacy of discrimination. But in this poll, their views generally were less negative than previously.

FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Saturday May 11, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 A2 Desk 1 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
L.A. riots: An April 29 story incorrectly referred to the April 1992 Los Angeles riots as the 'deadliest in the 20th century.' In 1921, a riot by a predominantly white mob in Tulsa resulted in the deaths of an estimated 300 black residents.

"People are feeling better about their city than at any time since the riots," said Susan Pinkus, director of the Times Poll.

The riots, America's deadliest in the 20th century, broke out 10 years ago today after a jury did not return guilty verdicts against any of the four Los Angeles Police Department officers whose videotaped beating of Rodney G. King stunned the nation.

The violence destroyed businesses and other property in largely poor and minority neighborhoods, and set off a years-long conversation about the consequences of Los Angeles' diversity and the gulf between affluent and poor residents.

A solid majority--69%--now feels the city has made at least some progress toward the question King posed at his first public appearance on the third day of the rioting: "Can we all get along?" Twenty-six percent said they saw little or no progress, while 5% said they did not know. Five years ago, however, 53% said the city had made progress toward its different racial groups getting along with one another, while 41% said little or none.

Today, the sense that progress has been made cuts across all three major racial groups and registers throughout the city: 74% of whites, 70% of blacks (contrasted with just 45% five years ago) and 60% of Latinos reported progress. Geographically, that sentiment was voiced by 75% of those living in the San Fernando Valley, 69% each of Westsiders and residents of the southern part of the city and 61% of those living in the central neighborhoods of Los Angeles.

"People have become a little more conscious that you need to be a little more patient, a little more observant, that [a member of a different racial group] is a human being," Laurie Dowling, 45, a San Fernando Valley resident, said in a follow-up interview. Dowling said she attends a multicultural, multiracial church on the Westside.

But a more specific question on the quality of race relations drew less effusiveness.

46% Call Relations Good

Only 46% described race relations as good, while 51% said not good. Among whites, 51% said race relations were good, but only 30% of blacks and 45% of Latinos agreed with that assessment. Still, that is a much rosier view than the prevailing outlook six months after the riots, when 82% of Angelenos felt race relations were not good; five years later, that number, while still a strong majority, had slid to 67%.

A solid majority, 78%, feel Los Angeles has recovered emotionally at least somewhat from the riots, although fewer blacks, 67%, hold that view than do Latinos, 85%, and whites, 77%.

"Everybody has kind of settled down and [is] trying to get along with everybody else, trying to adjust themselves to whatever is going on," said Shirley Washington, 63, a housewife who lives in one of the South-Central Los Angeles neighborhoods where the rioting was intense.

"I don't think people are quite as frustrated as they were then," said Pamela Williams, 68, who lives in the Valley.

Today, slightly more people than previously say the term "riot" best describes the events. Overall, a small majority, 54%, of residents chose "riot" while 33% preferred "rebellion." Among racial groups, however, whites chose "riot" over "rebellion" 71% to 19%, while blacks favored "rebellion" 55% to 35%--a division that also was reflected in news accounts years after the 1965 Watts riots. Latinos were more narrowly divided: 45% said "rebellion" while just 38% chose "riot."

People are divided in their opinions on the root causes of the riots--nearly one-third of those surveyed blamed a small criminal element for the looting and burning. Eighteen percent said the rioting was primarily to protest the verdicts in the King beating case.

"Police people did too much to black people, and the black people fought back in the same way," said Albert Ibaraki, 69, who has lived near downtown Los Angeles for 15 years.

Polly Stevens, 73, a retired teacher who lives on the Westside, said she watched Court TV coverage of the trial of the four officers who beat King and was stunned when none was convicted.

"Many of the rioters were people who would not ordinarily do that sort of thing, but they felt they were entitled" because of the verdicts, Stevens said. "It was a very sorry thing."

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