Hard times fuel community's fury

May 01, 1992|By Jonathan Peterson and Hector Tobar | Jonathan Peterson and Hector Tobar,Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES -- In a smoky parking lot in South-Central Los Angeles, Ruby Galude, 55, stared in disbelief at the wreckage of her local grocery store. "I'm a diabetic. This is where I get all my juices and foods," she said, peering at shards of glass and soaked debris. "What am I going to do now?"

A few miles away, Paul C. Hudson arrived at his family-run savings and loan, a community fixture since 1947 in a neighborhood that has a grave shortage of banks. Wednesday night it burned down. "Just the exterior wall was left standing," he said.

Anthony Wright and his wife, Jaye, meanwhile, sat in lawn chairs as radio news blared from their pickup truck. Just a few blocks away, hundreds of people were on a looting rampage on Vermont Avenue.

Hard times fuel the fury, said Mrs. Wright, a teacher's aide. "It's not a recession for minority communities," she said. "It's a depression."

Long before this week's spasm of destruction, daily life in parts of South-Central Los Angeles was grueling in ways much different from elsewhere in the city. In ordinary, mundane ways -- from a shortage of grocery stores and expensive credit to a scarcity of jobs and the more-publicized ills of crime and drugs -- it was harder to get through a typical day.

The rising toll in human life, torched businesses and destroyed property added insult to an already dangerous, frustrating existence.

Yesterday, some of the residents spoke in determined voices about getting on with the job of rebuilding their community.

"We have an obligation to reopen," said Mr. Hudson, president of Broadway Federal Savings and Loan, a green, two-story structure on 45th Street that survived the Watts riots in 1965 but not this.

But there were other voices as well: voices of profound disappointment in this country, angry accusations that years of economic injustice and neglect set the stage for violence. And behind the veil of smoke and chaos, a pessimism seemed to rise.

In part, the deprivation is in everyday commercial life, where people often have to pay higher prices with fewer choices, where residents who want to cash checks sometimes wait in endless lines more reminiscent of Moscow than Los Angeles.

Since the days of the Watts riots, most major supermarket chains have cut back their stores in South Los Angeles. Other retailers are wary of settling there altogether. Dazed residents worried that life in the worst neighborhoods would become even more thankless, with the help of self-inflicted wounds.

People "won't have anywhere to eat. They won't have anywhere to buy gas. They won't have anywhere to buy groceries," said Jacquie Wade, who had ventured into a strife-torn neighborhood to see if her church was still standing. It was.

The frustrations are also a product of limited jobs. Famous manufacturers, such as General Motors, Goodyear, Firestone and Bethlehem Steel, used to provide South Central residents the chance for a living wage and upward mobility.

By the 1980s, most such jobs vanished, a result of declining U.S. competitiveness. In the ashes, residents were forced into a lower-wage economy of light industry, welding shops, furniture makers, garment factories, fast-food restaurants and other employers.

Yet even those are taking a pounding in this week's violence.

"It's sad," said Moddie V. Wilson III, who had hastily scribbled signs in the windows of his hardware store saying, "Black Owned Business," to warn off potential looters.

"Black people are disenfranchised in this community. We don't have many stores, but some had started to come back. Now I don't know. It's gotten beyond Rodney King. Rodney King was just the straw that broke the camel's back."

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