Bush tours riot-ravaged L.A.; preaches racial harmony

By THOMAS FERRARO  |  May 7, 1992
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LOS ANGELES -- A grim-faced President Bush toured neighborhoods ravaged by one of the worst riots in the nation's history Thursday, then took the pulpit of a black church and preached racial harmony.

'We've got to fight against discrimination ... we've got to fight for justice and equality,' Bush said at Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church ini south central Los Angeles.

'It's fitting to pray to God to help us,' he told 500 parishioners, many of whom responded with cries of 'amen,' and demands for expedited federal relief.

Afterward, Bush held a series of emotional meetings with elected officials and black, Hispanic and Korean-American community leaders.

'A lot of people lost everything and there's no will to go on,' Helen Lim, fighting back tears, told Bush.

'We can't wait,' she said. 'Hope doesn't do anything. We need action.'

Of the more than 5,000 buildings heavily damaged or destroyed in the riots, nearly 2,000 belonged to Korean-Americans.

The president told Mrs. Lim, who lost a grocery store, 'We do care,' and said federal emergency loans and grants would swiftly be sent to the devastated area.

Bush's high-profile gestures were intended to show a president engaged in the recovery of this city, and the urban problems of the nation that are now certain to become a key issue in his campaign for re-election.

Local Democrats, however, were critical that Bush did not invite them to meetings addressing rebuilding efforts and for upholding policies they say helped lead to the violence last week.

Bush vowed to do more to help the poor, though he did not specify beyond the $600 million committed in disaster relief what actions he would take following a two-hour tour of the neighborhood torn apart after the aquittal of four white po inappropriate to outline any federal programs on this national day of prayer,' he said. 'We will do what we can to help to assist and to lead.'

Bush's aides said they do not expect new legislative initiatives to address poverty. They said the president will revive efforts previously pushed for home ownership among low-income people.

Sen. John Seymour, R-Calif., said the president's long stalled effort to create enterprise zones, in which businesses reap tax rewards for investing in poor neighborhoods, would now win support in Congress and become law.

The president was accompanied on the tour by Jack Kemp, the secretary of housing and urban development, and Louis Sullivan, secretary of health and human services and the only black cabinet member. They were joined by California Gov. Pete Wilson and, later, by Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley.

The riot brought 58 deaths and thousands of injuries and arrests. More than $700 million in damage resulted from the fires and looting.

The charred remains and acrid smell of destroyed buildings were a stark backdrop to a president in a fine gray suit and his entourage of security agents and reporters.

Bush traveled by motorcade at dawn past boarded up and burned out stores, then headed through Koreatown, site of some of the worst rioting.

Some children, waiting for the school buses Thursday, waved to the long motorcade, a traveling fortress, with snipers and helmeted National Guardsmen in every direction and a helicopter buzzing overhead.

In addition to those precautions, the White House asked television networks not to broadcast live shots of Bush's positions.

The Los Angeles disaster has become a feeding ground for politicians. Bush was preceded here by Gov. Bill Clinton, D-Ark., the president's likely opponent in the fall election, and his only GOP competition, Patrick Buchanan.

'You've got to get to the cause of it,' Bush told reporters outside a police station he visited to thank officers.

'We saw the violence and the hatred. Now we've got to heal and rebuild the city,' he said later at the church.

In his only referene to King, Bush said Thursday, 'I want you to know that justice will prevail. I will follow through with my responsibility ... to see if the civil rights of Rodney King or any one else were violated.'

The Justice Department has convened a grand jury to investigate criminal charges against the officers.

Aside from the King remark, Bush kept to a narrow script of condemning violence and speaking in general terms about the need to move on.

'I share a sense of outrage that the honest people in the community feel,' he said.

At the service, followed by a discussion with residents, several ministers said now is not the time to blame people but to find solutions.

Earlier this week the White House said anti-poverty programs begun in the 1960's were the seeds of disaster realized in 1992. Bush, on Wednesday, and again Thursday, distanced himself from those remarks by spokesman Marlin Fitzwater. But he also said his views that government programs do not eradicate poverty have be 'vindicated' by the riots.

Victor L. Wilson, 27, the pastor of the nearby Greater Mt. Zion Church, said he had to leave the service early to attend the funeral of two parishioners killed in the melee.

'My concern is that President Bush will come here, address the situation and nothing will happen,' he said. 'But my hope is that he will do what he says and help the inner cities.'

Gov. Wilson said at the church, 'This is a community that cherishes it's roots and its future. These are people that want to be part of the solution. I think this is a new beginning for the city of Los Angeles.'

Leslie Small, 28, a resident of the neighborhood, stood and calmly told the president: 'Instead of programs of survial we need programs of development. We don't want a handout. We want an opportunity.'

Small said he was assisted by anti-poverty progrem discontinued by the Reagan administration and told Bush there was a need for more, not fewer, such programs.

E.V. Hill, minister of the church, told Bush that 'race relations in this country is potentially more dangerous than drugs.'

Bush saw store after store reduced to rubble after last week's three days of mayhem. One plaza, though, was unmarked, carrying a written message on the window: 'To riotors - shopping center black owned - don't burn.'

'It's sad, it's tragic,' said Kemp of the scene. 'This is the equivalent of someone's home. It's their life savings.'

'We've reached critical mass and all must come together, Democrat and Republican, to inject hope and opportunity into the ghetto with jobs, education and housing,' Kemp added. 'You've got to give people a stake in their future.'

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