Amid pleas for calm, tension is everywhere
Carol J. Castaneda
LOS ANGELES - For all the talk of calm, this is one stressed-out city.
From radio talk shows to south central street corners, from airport waiting rooms
to trendy shops on Melrose Avenue, talk, jokes and worries about the upcoming
verdicts in the second trial in the Rodney King case are inescapable.
"You cannot come to work and not think about it," says Jeff Casey of Industrial
Council, a business association for manufacturers.
Publicly, almost everyone from the mayor on down is predicting a calm reaction
- no matter what the verdict.
Shirtless teens still drive to and from Santa Monica's pier; tourist attractions
report steady business; lines still form at evening theaters.
But even the talk of peace has the city, oddly, off-center.
"We're on edge," said KABC radio host Michael Jackson. "A majority are taking
a very sane, rational, responsible view that this is too civilized a community to
The signs of quiet tension are everywhere.
Monday afternoon a rumor of a pending verdict spread wildly. It was heard by
security guards and in financial circles downtown, by press agents in Hollywood.
Police reported scores of calls - one from Paris. At one point, a local radio
station reported the rumor, and that sparked more speculation.
Billboards urged brotherhood and peace even as local TV stations promised
"continuous coverage" the moment a verdict is announced. Live reports from
police and National Guard staging centers dominated newscasts.
Next Tuesday's mayoral election has been all but frozen in place by the case,
with all issues overwhelmed by campaign vows to spend more for police. A
front-runner in the race, City Councilman Michael Woo, pared back appearances
during the deliberations.
Work appeared normal at most businesses, hotels, restaurants and film studios on
the fringe of the areas hardest hit last year. But many were adding security
guards and tightening procedures Monday.
In the event of disturbances, the Economic Development Corp. has issued
emergency tips to businesses: Take home important numbers and information,
back-up vital records, encourage employees to establish emergency plans.
"We'll send our employees home as soon as we hear the jury comes back with a
verdict," says Hannah Kirschner of Jacobs Roberts Ltd., a downtown necktie
Polls show residents expect things to remain calm, but in interviews, almost
everyone has some kind of contingency plan, from staying home to hastily
"It gives you butterflies in the stomach . . . thinking about what could happen,"
said Bo Mi Chun, 24. "But I'll just act like usual, just lock myself in my house
and watch it on TV."
The pending verdicts come as the city is nearing the anniversary of last year's
April 29 riots, adding to the mixture of emotions, say educational and clinical
"We all witnessed terribly traumatic visual information," says clinical
psychologist Robert Scott. Because of television and video cameras, "we saw
things we normally didn't see."
"We nearly saw someone beaten to death," says Scott of the footage on Reginald
Denny. "We felt helpless and unable to aid."
But many experts say things will be different, because the city will be different
"There might be some hoodlums who might take advantage of anger in the
community if the verdict goes the unpopular way," says UCLA psychiatry
professor Louis West.
"But this time a lot of people who live in the community are not going to be
carried away with the gangsters and hoodlums. . . . They're going to call police."
Contributing Debbie Howlett, Jonathan T. Lovitt , Vic Pollard and Jim Specht
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PHOTO,b/w,Bob Riha Jr.,Gamma-Liaison