Problems That Led to L.A. Riots Are Still Unsolved, Panelists Say

The problems which led to last year's Los Angeles riots have not been resolved in either that city or in American society as a whole, panelists told an audience of more than 100 in the ARCO Forum last night.

The six panelists, all involved in race relations in Los Angeles and elsewhere, called for more dialogue between ethnic communities in Los Angeles and across America in order to improve race relations.

"We were sitting on a tinderbox," said Marsha Choo, who serves as a mediator between the Black and Korean communities as Los Angeles program director for the Asian Pacific American Dispute Resolution Center. "There aren't institutions in place that allow people to dialogue about race relations."

The panelists cautioned, however, that racial conflict and strife will worsen if changes in society are not made.

"Twenty-five years ago...the assassination of Martin Luther King [Jr.] brought violence in many cities. I don't think it's changed very much," said Alex Rodriguez, founder of the Institute for Affirmative Action in Cambridge. "This nation lives in ethnic divides."

Cambridge police commissioner Perry L. Anderson Jr. said that relations needed to go beyond dialogue. "I think people are talking all over America--what I think people need to look at are results," he said. "When we're finished talking, we go back to our own communities and all this talk is for naught."

Anderson and the other panelists blamed the mass media for worsening the situation by narrowly focusing on certain issues and making assumptions about minority behavior and opinions.

The media looks only at the surface of racial problems, said Bong Hwang Kim, director of the Korean Youth Center in Los Angeles. Kim said the media has overplayed and aggravated the tensions between the Black and Korean communities.

"The problem is that those of us who don't work in affected areas have to rely on the media," he said Kim. "Television journalists are getting to the point of focusing on extremely superficial levels. I think there's a danger there."

Jeff Kramer, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe, said he agreed with some of the criticism. "The mainstream media tends to view [minority] communities as something else," he said.

But he and Choo said that the situation in Los Angeles has eased up somewhat from that of a year ago.

"I think there is some hope...Divided, polarized as we are [Los Angeles], there are some areas of cooperation," Choo said.