Spunky Residents of L.A. Riot Areas Look to Future
LOS ANGELES — WITHIN a few days after the Los Angeles riots, Chung Kim's pharmacy in the heart of Koreatown was back open for business, even though the front of the store was still all plywood and not all the cosmetics, Zippo lighters, and other goods looted from shelves had been replenished.
Standing behind the counter in a short-sleeved shirt and greeting customers, Mr. Kim sums up his plans with blunt simplicity: "It is right to stay here. Where else would I go?"
Upstairs in the same mini-mall, Howard Chung relaxes, sets down a Styrofoam cup, and spreads out pictures of the remains of a corner grocery he co-owned in South Central, another area hard hit by rioting. There is nothing left of the Jenny Market but girders and ash. His partner wants to rebuild there, but Mr. Chung thinks he may prefer the safety of a distant suburb. "There is just too much crime," he says.
As officials plan for recovery, scholars debate the future of the inner city, and the president as well as would-be presidents pontificate before a backdrop of charred buildings, the families and individuals who work and live in the areas most damaged are contemplating their futures even as they look back on the tumult of the past week.
In the wake of the 1965 Watts riots, many white-owned businesses fled the inner city, as did a significant portion of the black middle class. Keeping the small-business and social structure of the ravaged areas will be a major challenge confronting reconstruction architects.
Out on the streets, a panoply of emotions - nervousness, anger, commitment, hope - reign as residents resume normal routines.
"My Thai restaurant is gone," says Rose (not her real name). She is walking down Vermont Avenue in Koreatown, near where her favorite restaurant used to be, before it was burned. She lives in one of those Los Angeles neighborhoods that, before last week, civic boosters liked to think of as models - multi-ethnic and harmonious. She is black. Her neighbor on one side is Hispanic. Koreans live on the other.
Though she was shaken by the violence, Rose doesn't understand why leaders couldn't see it coming. She does, however, have an indomitable faith that the city will be able to forge a new sense of community. "There is only one loaf," she says. "People have to live together. That is it."
Jong Whan Cha may not be quite as optimistic, but at least he is sleeping in his own bed again. For four days after the rioting began, he slept in his department store in the Na Sung Plaza in Koreatown. He wasn't armed, as some of his cultural kin so often shown on television were. He was just to trying to protect his business. He escaped with $23,000 in damage, mainly broken windows and stolen Oriental vases, rugs, and furniture.
"I will stay here," he says, as he fills out a police report about the damage. "This area is stable. I know a lot of Koreans. A lot of Koreans know me." But there is an uneasiness. "I hope," he says, "there are no more of these problems."
When the rioting first broke out, Charles Stephen and his wife Aloma were visiting relatives, but they quickly drove home because, as he puts it, "I knew it was going to get rough."
The Stephens live across the street from the ABC Market at Martin Luther King Boulevard and Western Avenue, where looters, before the eyes of millions of tuned-in Americans, wheeled shopping carts of groceries out the door. Mr. Stephens watched as a fistfight broke out in the parking lot and someone drove a truck through the front door.
"It's over," he says, standing in front of his bungalow trimmed with rose bushes and bougainvillea. "People got their frustration out. Now they have to get together and restructure the community. The only thing we have to look forward to is the government getting us more jobs."
THE Stephenses are back to their normal routines - he at work as a truck driver for a moving company and she as a nurse's assistant, though there is the inconvenience of no longer being able to walk across the street for groceries.
In another part of South Central, Debra Johnson stands in line at a bank teller machine. Across the street, plywood covers the windows of "H&L Ladies Fashions," "Jimmie's Bar.B.Q.," and "Herm's Wine and Spirits."
"The only thing they did was tear up the community," she says. "It looks bad. There is no doubt about it." But she adds: "Everybody has to have a positive attitude."
Reflecting the shifting demographics of South Central, Ms. Johnson, who is black, lives on a predominantly Hispanic street. The neat, quiet neighborhood, like most residential areas, was untouched by the violence. She sees only a few "trouble spots" - though she does have anxieties about what gangs have up their well-armed sleeves: "Everybody keeps saying that once the troops leave there are going to be problems."
Steve Watts would put an exclamation point behind that. The optometrist has run an eye clinic for 22 years in another commercial area that suffered damage. Across the street are the sooty remains of three Korean-American-owned businesses. A black-owned cleaning business was untouched.
Mr. Watts says the rage blacks feel over the criminal justice system and the neglect of the inner city is still palpable.
"After the Watts riots, they said, 'We are going to get all these programs'," he says. "As soon as it got off the front page, they cut the programs. If they do it this time, they are going to really get it."