Cover Story

'Fear is winnin' the day'

"'Fear is winnin' the day'" Continued...

'Looting' began long ago

Government is to blame, too, and Mata does not have much time for the nation's political leadership-Bush and especially, his predecessor, President Reagan. "Reaganomics has raped the cities," he says, matter-of-factly. Mata, a member of California's Democratic Central Committee, says the real "looting" began when the savings and loan industry was deregulated and investment was driven from the cities. But asked whether Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton is right when he blames the rioting on "a decade of neglect" by the Reagan and Bush administrations, however, Mata says "no."

"I think it's been more than 10 years of neglect," he said, berating the Democrat-controlled Congress.

Perkins, too, has criticism for government attempts to "solve" the problems of the cities. After the August 1965 rioting in the Watts section of Los Angeles, Perkins said: "Instead of economic empowerment, we got entitlement programs, and welfare programs, and food stamp programs. We got the 'Great Society.' "

While President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society programs in large measure fostered dependency on government, Perkins said they also for the first time in American history helped create a black middle class. But just as there was a "white flight" exodus from the cities to the suburbs, so too there was black flight-the newly-created black middle class fled the cities, leaving behind a permanent under class.

"Those [programs] built the black middle class, but then removed it from the community, Perkins said, lamenting not only the breakup of the black family, but the loss of positive "role models" whose success young black men could aspire to. He said middle-class blacks "about 10 years ago" acknowledged the need for these role models for inner-city youth, but their response missed the point.

"They started talking about bringing in the Michael Jacksons, the Magic Johnsons, the Mike Tysons,' Perkins says. "but the young people have rejected these, because when you want a role model, you want somebody who's moral. So while they'll try to be like them in terms of their looks and style, in their hearts they want somebody of integrity as well as character."

Instead of seeing fellow blacks running businesses in their urban neighborhoods, the remaining under class saw immigrants-Hispanics, but mostly Asians-move in and acquire land, run stores, and make money. Perkins said they wondered how just a few years "off the boat," these Koreans could become such successful business owners.

'Burn 'em out'

"These young folks felt totally disillusioned," says Perkins. "And they said, 'Why not? We can't get freedom in this place. Why not burn it down? Somebody did more for the Koreans than they did for us. So let's burn 'em out.' "

And burn 'em out they did. A tour through the city's burned-out areas reveals that the firebombings were not random acts. There was an obvious pattern: the rubble of Korean-owned shops that were burned to the ground stands out in stark relief to virtually untouched stores and shops next door.

Inside a liquor store at the corner of Florence and Normandie in South-Central, the putative flashpoint of the April riots, tension between blacks and Koreans is manifest. Perkins buys a Diet Pepsi, then asks for a cup of ice (a request that under "normal" circumstances would have been out of the question) from the Asian clerk behind the counter. "Normally," he said, "they would have told me where to get off. Now, when a black man makes a request, they go out of their way." Common courtesy is a matter of survival here.

Robert Oh, pastor of the Oikos Community church, a Korean-American congregation in central Los Angeles, explained that the significant cultural differences also added to the tension. "I have been visiting two African-American churches before going to my church every Sunday for many weeks now since the riot. Basically what I was telling them is that there is a cultural difference that we have to recognize," Oh said in an interview.

He says that Koreans culturally are very formal; blacks aren't. So a Korean clerk, for example, when returning change to a black patron, slides the coins across the counter to avoid contact with that customer. Blacks take that as racism.

Oh explains it to blacks this way: "My father who had two Ph.D.s would never touch my hand or hug me to say, 'Son, I love you.' He never said that in his entire life. Why would he-starting a store in South-Central-grab someone, or touch someone, and hug someone and say, 'I love you?' If he cannot do that to his own son, his not going to do it to anybody. This formalism people misunderstand as arrogance, racism. They think it is negative racism to African-Americans. It's not."

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