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Mayor Voices Concern Over South L.A. Ethnic Tensions

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

In his most direct acknowledgement of tensions between African-Americans and Korean-Americans, Mayor Tom Bradley on Tuesday denounced the Aug. 7 burning of a South Los Angeles liquor store, then made oblique references to a series of recent disputes in which two Korean-American merchants and two African-Americans were killed.

At a news conference in front of the fire-gutted Champion Liquor Deli, the mayor asked for continued mediation attempts between the two groups. “This is only one of several incidents that causes concern,” Bradley said of the fire at the store, owned by a Korean-American.

Investigators have not alleged that the incident was racially motivated. The store owner said he believes it may be the result of a dispute with an African-American customer.

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Still, Bradley used the incident to comment on rising tensions between the two ethnic groups.

“Our failure to condemn this act can serve to escalate violent attacks against Korean storekeepers in South-Central.”

But Bradley’s comments were met with skepticism by residents in the 6600 block of Figueroa Street, where the store is located.

Several residents questioned why the mayor has been reluctant to intervene in the recent conflicts.

“Why didn’t the mayor show up when the woman killed the girl?” asked Ollie Rugley, 65, referring to the shooting death of a 15-year-old black girl by a Korean-American merchant. “We didn’t see the mayor back then.”

Ron Wakabayashi, director of the city’s Human Relations Commission, said the mayor has been trying to identify the areas of conflict for months, and appointed staff members to work with county-assigned mediators.

Bradley’s appeal followed a meeting with African-American and Korean-American leaders, police and a mediator from the U.S. Justice Department.

The store owner, Tae Suk Kim, said he does not believe the incident was motivated by racial differences. The night of the fire, a witness identified a neighborhood man as the arsonist. However, no arrests have been made.

Kim said he and the man had been engaged in a long-running customer-merchant dispute.


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