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Cities across America feel shockwaves of L.A. verdict.

In the wake of the Rodney King verdict, scores of Americans in cities around the nation translated their outrage over the acquittals of four policemen into a rejuvenated human and civil rights crusade. Beyond L.A., for the most part, things were in control. The extent to which those demonstrations were peaceful weighed heavily on the level of community investment strategies already in place.

In the nation's cities and towns, communities responded to the trial's underlying issues of race, poverty, crime and punishment as shock waves moved across the nation. Similiar to preparing for an earthquake, areas that build steady foundations are more likely to withstand the tremors. The quicker local leaders turned into community frustrations, welcoming dialogue and peaceful protest, the better the results.

National Response

Nearly two weeks since the verdict, and in the aftermath of the Los Angeles riots that left 46 reported dead and more than 2,000 injured, groups of frustrated and angry residents in L.A., Atlanta, Mississippi, Minnesota, New Mexico, New Jersey, New York, Florida, Arkansas and nationwide continue to gather peacefully in houses of worship, government corridors, and neighbourhoods.

In places like Biloxi, local officials capitalized on a strong community foundation, which made it easier for leaders like Councilmember William Stallworth to keep citizens calm. "The feeling of the general community is militant," he said. Yet, "black and white churches are holding joint fundraisers for the people of L.A."

In Minneapolis, Minn., Mayor and NLC First Vice President Donald M. Fraser, the city council, the chief of police and civil rights leaders joined 5,000 demonstrators in a peaceful march to show a united effort against the verdict.

"The community leaders controlled the march. The police only had to get involved to control traffic," said Bob Knight, senior administrative aide to Mayor Fraser. "Here in Minneapolis there are opportunities for open discussions and police and community members work together at problem solving," he said. "We need these kind of numbers to show up at city halls and council chambers across the country," said Stallworth, an NLC Board member and first vice president of the National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials (NBC-LEO). "That kind of response will affect a larger amount of change than any amount of violence."

"The acquittal of the police officers in Los Angeles shocked us out of our numbers," said Cherie R. Brown, executive director of the National Coalition Building Institute. "The issue of urban violence and racism will not disappear. Without any significant leadership from national policy makers addressing these issues with courage and integrity, it becomes even more imperative that every local community build such a proactive leadership healing team."

"The unfinished work in the United States of addressing the growing divisions of race and class will not move forward until each of us can honestly face our own grief and horror about what has been done and what is still being done to African Americans, not to mention Native Americans and other people of color," said Brown.

In Washington, D.C., 14,000 government employees took a day off to spend time with family members and attend organized rallies. Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly endorsed a one day use of leave by government employees as a show of protest of the verdicts in Los Angeles.

The day was one for peaceful protest by people of all races in the nation's capital. Black students from Howard University marched through the federal district, many Asian shop owners shut down for the day to show their support for the protests, and people of all races participated in a day aimed at showing unity in a protest against perceived injustice.

Across the nation's capitol hundreds of city residents met on the steps of the Justice Building, on the lawn across from the White House, at universities and in the middle of major thoroughfares.

Last year's riots in D.C's predominantly hispanic neighborhood of Mount Pleasant fueled city restoration efforts and opened communication lines between racially diverse communities within the District. As a result, a task force of hispanic citizens and community leaders was formed and meetings are taking place with city officials to tackle hispanic issues.

Local leaders say the kind of united efforts evidenced in the protests nationwide are the key to solving city problems and beginning to correct the critical issues of economic disparities and race relations. NLC has maintained a concerted effort to bring to the forefront the hard-to-face racial and economic realities.

"When I heard the news, I felt like I had just awakened in South Africa or I had been thrown back in time to 1957 Mississippi," said Mike Lindberg, Portland, Oregon commissioner of public affairs.

In Atlanta, protestors, most of whom were college students, rallied against the King verdict as a result of "the current generation having difficulty relating to the 60s civil rights era," said Atlanta Councilmember Carolyn Long Banks. A demonstration march through downtown Atlanta erupted into the trashing and looting of some businesses and later developed into confrontations with city police and subway riders.

Councilmembers Banks, president of NBC-LEO, said Atlanta leaders met with the students and formed a task force of representatives from the heavy concentration of predominantly black colleges in the city. "The students began joining with leaders. We provided a forum at city hall. We listened to what they had to say rather than us talking at them. They are trying to tell America that their plight is deplorable," she said.

"Violence begets violence. We must have the strength to break the cycle. The violence on the streets of Los Angeles is destroying the very neighborhoods that feel aggrieved by this verdict," said Ruth Messinger, Manhattan borough president and NLC Advisory Council's Liaison for Diversity in Governance.

In Dade Country, Fla., where neighborhoods in the Miami area are still recovering from riots and civil disturbances of the past, residents are responding with a "tremendous interest in what's happening in L.A.," said John McDermott, chief assistant to Metropolitan Dade Mayor Stephen Clark.

"I think we've learned a lot," said McDermott. He said that the riots of the past "motivated more people, who ordinarily sit back, to step in and play a bigger role in the community. All of these things create a better understanding."

A major influence, say urban and political analysts, is the influx of minority representatives in government leadership. "To have blacks and other minorities in elected positions or in responsible leadership roles being visible and connected to the community is key," said Russell Owens, director of the National Policy Institute Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.

"Cities' changing demographics are forcing the bridging of (economic and racial gaps) to equally meet the needs of our community," said Owens.

Cities in New Mexico experienced some violence, including a fire at a state correctional building which police believe may have been a reaction to the King verdict. However, peaceful demonstrations dominated in most neighborhoods, according to Santa Fe Councilmember Peso Chavez.

Chavez, who chairs NLC's Hispanic Elected Local Officials constituency group, echoed the sentiments of many NLC leaders.

"The verdict represents a travesty. This has reached the four corners of the United States. It was clear that at some point, that excess force was used. I don't know how much evidence was needed," he said.

Chavez said he applauded those in L.A. who "were appalled by the rioters and looters. Faith was restored in those who did not take up arms, but took up rakes, shovels and brooms" to clean up, said Chavez, who is also a private investigator.

In L.A.'s bordering city of Inglewood, peace was also a ruling way of venting frustrations and beginning to move forward, Inglewood Councilmember Daniel K. Tabor said. "People in L.A. burned up buildings owned by people who did not live in their neighborhoods and did not invest in their neighborhoods. The bottom line is economics and race," says Tabor.

As voiced by NLC, economic disparities fueled a circle of issues that are bound to come around again and again. "Our cities desperately need help in solving problems of unemployment, health care, housing, education and a myriad of other substandard living conditions that are building tensions in cities across America," said NLC President Glenda E. Hood.

"Until things begin to change, the have nots will always want to destroy what the haves have," said Tabor.
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Rodney King case
Author:Baker, Denise
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:May 11, 1992
Previous Article:A statement from the NLC officers: 'Our nation must confront attitudes and issues.' (National League of Cities)
Next Article:Actions in Washington belie intent to help cities.

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