An estimated 30,000 people--some wearing white headbands of mourning, some carrying brooms and plastic garbage bags--marched through Los Angeles’ Koreatown on Saturday in a massive show of support for beleaguered merchants.
“It hurts right here,” said marcher Joyce Kim of Diamond Bar, putting her hand over her heart to show anguish over the Korean-owned stores that were looted or set afire since the Rodney G. King verdict. “Koreatown is all our family.”
The marchers, many of whom were not directly affected by the violence, came from such outlying areas as San Diego, Laguna Niguel, Santa Monica and the South Bay in response to appeals from a Korean-language radio station that they gather in Ardmore Park in Koreatown.
“We want peace,” said marcher Myung-Sik Ahn, 61. “We want no more fighting.”
Several elderly Korean men left the parade route to shake the hands of Latinos and African-Americans who were watching. A Latino woman reached out and hugged one marcher, sobbing.
A black youth waved a South Korean flag from a curb and thrust a fist into the air in a gesture of solidarity. The marchers, most of whom were Korean-American, cheered.
Richard Royce, an African-American, participated in the march after showing up to help clean up Koreatown. Royce, who did not know the march was scheduled, said he was disappointed to realize that he was one of very few blacks in the crowd.
“This was an ideal opportunity to have some kind of rapprochement between the black and Korean communities,” he said.
Many people dropped out of the procession at different points to help clean up at the sites of damaged businesses.
The marchers--who proceeded along Olympic Boulevard, Western Avenue, 3rd Street and Vermont Avenue--were led by friends and relatives of Edward Lee, an 18-year-old Koreatown resident who was shot to death Thursday as he tried to deter looters.
The only violent incident during the three-hour march occurred when an apparently inebriated Latino onlooker began taunting the participants and making obscene gestures. Several outraged marchers knocked the man to the ground. He was immediately arrested by Los Angeles police.
One Korean-American participant carried a sign that read: “Demand Government’s Full Compensation to Political Victims.”
This was a reference to a call by Park Jyun-kyu, the speaker of the South Korean National Assembly, for the U.S. government to compensate Korean-American victims for property lost or damaged in the rioting.
According to an unofficial survey by Radio Korea (AM-1580), $350 million in damage was done to as many as 1,000 businesses during the rioting. The Korean-American community in Los Angeles numbers an estimated 145,000, according to the 1990 census.
There was speculation during the march that the attacks during the rioting reflected a resentment by blacks of the success of many Korean-American businesses in poor minority neighborhoods.
“They say, ‘You guys take our money out of our community, and you never put anything back in,’ ” said Richard Rhee, whose grocery store is along the route of the march.
Relations worsened last spring when a Korean-American merchant shot an unarmed, 15-year-old black girl to death, in a dispute over a bottle of orange juice. The merchant, Soon Ja Du, 54, received probation instead of a prison sentence in the death of Latasha Harlins, further angering the black community.
“Ever since the (Harlins) case, we didn’t get along,” Rhee said of the black and Korean communities, as the marchers went by. “With the Rodney King case, what I think is that they (were trying) to get even with us.”
While the marchers spoke of reconciliation, many could not hide their resentment over the lack of police deployment in South Los Angeles and Koreatown during the first two days of the rioting.
“We were not helped on time,” said marcher Cindy Chun, 23, of Gardena. “We felt we were abandoned. The most humiliating thing was to see the police just standing there as businesses were burning. I knew there was a buildup (of tension). They should have known.”
“There was nothing. Where . . . were the cops?” said a female friend of the 18-year-old killed by looters.
“The police officers haven’t paid attention to the Korean community. They didn’t show up until everything was already demolished,” said marcher Jenny Byun, 24, a Koreatown bank clerk.
James An, 45, of Glendale, asserted that while police expected violence to occur after the verdicts were announced, “they don’t care about this area. They didn’t do anything.”
Watching from inside his bookstore, Don Kim said he was heartened by the demonstration--as well as by the arrival of the National Guard on Friday.
“God, that helped us out a lot,” he said of the stationing of the troops.
Before the Guard arrived, Kim said, the security of his store was left to him and two of his employees, all carrying handguns. Twice, he said, they fought off looters.
But with the violence dying down, there was talk of the future, too.
“We just want to get along with all the other minority communities,” said Francis Hur, one marcher.
Times staff writer Steve Harvey contributed to this story.