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L.A. Tries to Restore Calm Following Police Acquittals


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THIS city's worst social unrest since Watts in 1965 goes well beyond the precarious state of race relations in the nation's most ethnically diverse region.

While the trigger for massive upheavals here was the acquittal of four Los Angeles police officers on brutality charges, the anger now surfacing reflects far deeper concerns about the criminal justice system, police-community relations, and urban decay - problems facing a host of United States cities.

What city leaders had hoped would be a definitive close to an emotional year in the city's history instead mushroomed into a broader social and civil turmoil that has seen neighborhoods burn, the National Guard mobilized, and police in riot gear. At press time, nine had been killed; 138 injured.

The test for Los Angeles now is to see if it can turn crisis into conciliation and channel the anger that has spilled into the streets into political consensus about its institutions. "We've learned we can't just sit back and let a jury fix our problems," says Jack Katz, a criminologist at University of California at Los Angeles.

Early efforts by leaders to restore calm could not contain the spasm of outrage that started in predominantly black South-Central Los Angeles but spread across several communities.

Violence began within hours after an all-white jury in Simi Valley returned acquittals on all counts but one arising from the March 3, 1991, beating of motorist Rodney King. A mistrial was declared on one count.

Reaction to the verdict was pointed and swift. While the officers expressed relief, Mayor Tom Bradley called it beyond "my wildest imagination." Lewis Yablonsky, a police expert at California State University at Northridge, said, "In my 40 years experience, I have never seen a more appalling verdict."

"What happened to Rodney King was the Ku Klux Klan in blue uniforms instead of white sheets," said Bishop Carl Bean, a local black leader.


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