Simi Valley still bears scars
SIMI VALLEY, Calif. - No matter how desperately this city tries to forget, the
world still won't let it.
``We just want to be left alone,'' says retired grocer Robert Kenyon, who
absorbed yet another reminder over the weekend of his city's suddenly notorious
role in history.
This time, it was a few white supremacists - led by the Nationalist Movement -
who spread a message of racism Saturday through the community where the
Rodney King beating verdict was rendered.
Scores of counterdemonstrators showed up, touching off a shoving match.
``We've been damaged unfairly,'' says real estate broker Lou Hillenbrand. ``From
the homeowner to the mayor, we've been ... wronged.''
The scars are evident in this bedroom community of 100,000, and some appear
to be lasting. Among the deepest: fear. Since kids on a Simi Valley school bus
were harassed during an out-of-town trip, students have been kept away from the
Los Angeles area.
``I don't see what it really has to do with us,'' says junior high student Willie
Straghorn, 16. But adults are scared as well.
Says house painter Kevin Miller, 26: ``If I'm in L.A. somewhere, I'm not even
going to admit where I'm from.''
Gun sales continue to set records, and hardware stores have stepped up sales of
security systems. ``These people are not about to be victimized,'' says Judy
Cotter, owner of Hildale Sales gun shop.
Guilt is here, too, and one can find examples of how they're dealing with it. At
the predominantly-white Simi Valley Community Church, the congregation
heard from a black member who said she had been welcomed warmly.
The Rev. Dan Perkins said they all felt better afterward.
And there's frustration. People are furious with the racist image they've been
given. They keep seizing on the fact that only two of the 12 jurors who acquitted
the police in the King case live in Simi Valley.
``We didn't do anything wrong,'' says a weary Mayor Greg Stratton, ``and I guess
I'm having difficulty understanding what we should learn.''
But there do appear to be some lessons. For one thing, this city gradually is
learning how to pull together. Few defend the verdict, but most will defend the
``We're not going to let outsiders tell us we have a rotten community,'' says
``Most people are already moving on with this thing,'' says Perkins.
Maybe even a bigger lesson: Simi Valley has learned that it can't insulate itself
from the world's judgment. Already, there's a movement afoot here to offer
riot-scarred south central Los Angeles some help.
With the help of mediator Niles Alvino, Assistant City Manager Mike Sedell has
been exchanging ideas with Nickerson Gardens, home to one of south central
Los Angeles' toughest gangs. They're talking about ideas like a ``youth
exchange,'' where Simi kids can change places for a day with Nickerson kids.
``There's no more time for protesting and rallies,'' Alvino says. ``There's time to
make things happen.''
Adds Jim Smith, who represents Nickerson, ``One day I maintain we can send a
busload of our kids to Simi Valley, and they'll be comfortable. It's about healing
between the two communities.''
Contributing: Jonathan T. Lovitt
CUTLINE:TROUBLED TOWN: Supporters of the white supremacist Nationalist
Movement were hit with rocks and cans in Simi Valley.
GRAPHIC;b/w,Elys A. McLean, USA TODAY