Two convicted in King beating Quiet city greets verdicts with smiles and tears Fog lifts along with L.A.'s fears as normal weekend life returns

April 18, 1993|By Bill Glauber and John Rivera | Bill Glauber and John Rivera,Staff Writers

LOS ANGELES -- Midmorning, South Central, and the Men o Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church were on a break, sipping coffee from plastic foam cups and eating Danish.

The fog was lifting yesterday. The streets were empty. The verdicts in the Rodney G. King civil rights trial were in.

And life went on.

"The kids are here at church," said Joseph Moss, president of the men's group and organizer of its neighborhood street patrols.

"They are ready for their art classes, their drama classes, their music classes. We're riding the streets. People are jumping rope, cutting lawns, washing cars. It's a normal day."

Fearing a repeat of the worst, Los Angeles discovered the best in itself as the city's residents calmly absorbed a jury's verdict.

Before breakfast was even served, Sgt. Stacey C. Koon and Officer Laurence M. Powell were found guilty of violating Mr. King's civil rights, while Officer Theodore Briseno and former Officer Timothy E. Wind were cleared.

The news traveled swiftly by telephone and radio and television. And the city's one-year nightmare, which began with the acquittal of the four defendants in a state trial and riots that left 53 dead and almost $1 billion in property damage, came to a close.

Shopping malls opened. The freeways were clear. The Dodgers played.

And the only problem at the corner of Florence and Normandie here in South Central, the epicenter of last year's riot, was this: The news media outnumbered the residents, who were uncomfortable with the attention.

As night fell, the city was calm.

"I just feel blessed," said Domingo Rambo, serving coffee to the men of Bethel. "I feel that the Lord has taken control and he is in charge of hearts and minds."

Moments before the jury was seated, the public was ushered up an elevator and into the eight-floor courtroom of the Edward Roybal Federal Building. A dozen of the lucky, tired citizens -- who began standing outside the locked front doors of the building before 2 a.m. -- filled a row of seats behind the defendants' families.

The interested citizens remained quiet throughout the proceeding, showing no emotion at the announcement of the verdicts. When the judge cleared the court, the public raced to the elevators and headed outside.

Broad smiles broke across their faces. A few even wept.

Patricia Moore, a member of the City Council in Compton, a predominantly black community south of Los Angeles, was overcome with emotion.

She skipped through the courtyard, weaving around television cameras, reporters, police and demonstrators. She ignored the noise from the three helicopters fluttering through the cloudy, gray sky.

"It gives us hope. It gives us hope. It gives us hope," she said. "It is a momentous occasion."

She cried.

Waiting ends

Steve Choi was bagging groceries at the Hannam Supermarket on the corner of Vermont and Olympic in the heart of Koreatown.

It was a quiet Saturday, like any other. The produce was fresh. The aisles were filled with shoppers. Business was very, very good.

"I'm not worried," said the 19-year-old freshman at Santa Monica Junior College. "I have enough faith in the people of Los Angeles that there won't be any trouble."

A year ago, the market was a battleground, as rioters and looters attacked all the stores in the strip mall. A private security guard was killed in the cross fire.

Mr. Choi was slightly concerned about the verdicts. Four convictions, he said, are better than a split decision. He heard the verdicts like many of the other shoppers in the store, over Radio Korea.

"We've taken a couple of precautions," he said. "We've added a few extra security guards."

Choon Lee, the store manager, said, "There will not be a riot. But there will be a couple of incidents."

Jay Shin, owner of Bourbon Street Liquors, wasn't taking any chances. He opened the store at 7 a.m., an hour early, and was prepared to spend the night, lugging a sleeping bag and a gun to work and staying in constant telephone contact with his wife.

"I collect guns," he said, tugging on the brim of his Dallas Cowboys cap. "You name it, I've got it."

But Mr. Shin did not expect any violence.

"First of all, I'm glad it's over with," he said. "I hated that waiting and waiting and waiting. Now I just hope this rioting won't happen like last year. I don't think it will. But I worry about the future. Five, 10 years from now. We have to be motivated to reduce racial tension. Not just here, in L.A., but everywhere. A riot could happen anywhere, any time."

A day for a walk

Sixth Street, MacArthur Park, and the drug pushers and sidewalk vendors share space on a shopping Saturday.

The pushers quietly peddled their wares -- vials of crack cocaine. The vendors spread their goods out on blankets. Used clothes. Piles of wrenches and hammers. Spanish-language books.

"I don't think the gangs will do anything, now that the verdict is in,"said Juan Padilla, 26, a carpenter who was looking for a good buy on tools. "It feels pretty good around here, now. It feels like normal."

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