One-fifth cited economic injustice as the root cause, while another one-fifth said it was a combination of all three factors. About three-fourths agreed that the riots were not just about the verdicts, but reflected the culmination of injustices felt then by most blacks every day living in the city.
While two-thirds of all residents--and 88% of blacks--disapproved of the verdicts, a majority, 58%, said the riots were unjustified, and the responses for each of the three racial groups were about the same as residents as a whole. Five years earlier, a significantly larger proportion of residents--71%--felt the riots were unjustified.
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.
"I don't condone the crimes that were committed," said Valley resident Ernest Fuentes, 77, "but most of the people who did these bad things had no other way of expressing their frustration."
Fuentes, an ambulance driver for the city during the 1950s and '60s, said he witnessed many incidents of police brutality and discrimination against blacks in those days and does not believe racism has been overcome within the LAPD.
One-third of residents who lived in or near the riot zone said there were businesses in their neighborhoods that still have not reopened. In the southern quadrant of the city, which includes many of the hardest hit neighborhoods, 55% reported unreplaced businesses, as did 65% of blacks.
LAPD Comes Under Fire
The rioting was a watershed event for the Police Department as much as for the city as a whole because it brought to the surface long-smoldering resentment and accusations of police racism. The rioting--and the LAPD's slow initial response to it--cost a longtime police chief his job, tarnished the department's image and spawned an ongoing drive to reform the department.
Not surprisingly, a Times poll taken shortly after the riots showed only 40% of residents--and only 23% of blacks--approved of how the LAPD was doing its job.
In the current poll, however, the LAPD's performance got a thumbs up from 62% of Angelenos, including a narrow majority, 51%, of blacks and from 65% of whites and 60% of Latinos. Moreover, 81% said they had a favorable impression of the department's efforts to hold down crime in their communities. Police got high marks throughout the city. But among racial groups, somewhat fewer blacks (69%) rated the department's activities favorably than did Latinos (85%) and whites (84%).
Blacks also expressed a different experience with the LAPD's community outreach efforts. Only 48% said they viewed the department's activities favorably, while the department's efforts got favorable marks from 74% of Latinos and 62% of whites.
But a majority--57%--of Angelenos believe racist feelings are at least somewhat common among LAPD officers. Not surprisingly in the wake of the Rampart Division corruption scandal and intense debate over "racial profiling" in traffic stops and arrests, that view is most strongly held by Latinos (68%) and blacks (65%), while 48% of whites agreed.
The poll also revealed wide differences in how the various groups perceive the incidence of police brutality. Roughly two-thirds of blacks and Latinos said police brutality was either fairly or very common, while only 28% of whites thought so.
As for the King beating's long-term impact on the LAPD, nearly half (45%) of Angelenos felt the department had become a better institution because of it, while 11% felt it had made the department worse and 33% said it had no impact. That is very similar to findings of a Times poll taken in spring 1997, the fifth anniversary of the riots.
If Angelenos have mixed feelings about their Police Department, their views of their own communities and circumstances are more positive than at any time since the riots--84% said they were at least somewhat satisfied with their communities. Shortly after the riots, 59% said they were satisfied and, five years later, 73%.
Jobs Are Still a Concern
Jobs and the economy continue to be a concern for nearly half of Angelenos, however: 49% said the availability of jobs and economic opportunities in their communities was not good, while 43% thought it was. But views varied widely among racial groups--nearly two-thirds of blacks and Latinos rated economic opportunities poor while only one-third of whites did so.
"It's just very difficult to get a job," said Gloria Atkins, 66, who lives in the city's harbor area. "There needs to be more training and more facilities for people to get the training for these jobs."
Atkins said she learned firsthand about job scarcity when she was laid off more than a year ago as a manager for a high-tech firm and could not find another job. She reluctantly went to work for her brother's firm.
Residents continue to put crime near the top of their list of problems facing the city--33% said it was the most important and 17% said gangs
were; traffic and education were the No. 1 concerns for 15% and 14%, respectively, of those interviewed.