AFTER THE RIOTS: THE SEARCH FOR ANSWERS : 'I'm Not Going to Hate,' Survivor in Long Beach Says

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Scott Coleman wandered nervously around his apartment as if the traumatic memories of recent days would not leave him alone.

With two bullets still lodged in his arm, Coleman rarely stops thinking about the attack by rioters in Long Beach that also left his uncle and best friend, Matthew Haines, dead. So he seeks consolation in little things. He wears Haines' big, fluffy tiger slippers, cleans up the dead man's room, does his laundry, drives his Camaro, sifts through his pictures.

The rioters who attacked Coleman and Haines on April 30 as the two men rode a motorcycle through central Long Beach apparently targeted them because they were white. Despite the racism that apparently sparked the attack, Coleman said in an interview Thursday that the attitudes he had about people of different color has not changed.

"I'm not going to hate black people. It's not the fault of their race," said Coleman, 26, who plans to attend a memorial service for his 32-year-old uncle today at Bayshore Community Church in Long Beach.

"I never had problems with them before. I just hated rednecks. Like Matt said: 'If you're gonna be racist, be racist against someone who's racist against everyone else,' " Coleman said.

Coleman often circled back to what Haines said, did and believed in.

Like others grieving over the loss of a loved one murdered in the aftermath of the Rodney G. King verdicts, Coleman takes solace in remembering.

"I grew up with him," said Coleman, a data entry operator at his mother's accounting firm and a Long Beach City College student.

Coleman talked about how he and Haines traveled similar paths. Both were born in Pennsylvania, grew up in Texas and moved to California in recent years.

Coleman also talked about the incident that has shattered his life.

The attack occurred about 6:50 p.m. Haines and Coleman had set out to help two friends, one of them black, escape from an area targeted by rioters.

Coleman said he and Haines went to help their friends pack. He bristled at earlier reports that Haines, a mechanic at Long Beach Toyota, went to help their friends start a van. "Matt fixed that van two weeks ago," he said indignantly, showing his pride in his dead uncle's expertise with cars.

When they left their home near Belmont Heights, they felt safe. According to news reports, the closest rioting was in Compton. But by the time the two rode through central Long Beach, they saw a scary scene.

"Before we could get to the end of the block, people jumped out of a car, ran to Super Shops, started shooting and then ran out with stuff," Coleman said.

To avoid the violence, the men switched their route. But a few blocks away, near Lemon Avenue and 19th Street, they were trapped in traffic.

"The car in front of us stopped. Two guys hopped out. Four dudes got out of the car in back of us," Coleman said. "Matt thought we'd have a better chance if we split up. He said: 'Take off, man, I'll meet you later.' He always did the faster thinking. I said: 'Sure, dude.' I got as far as five feet. I got pretty far, huh?"

He remembered some of the men in the mob, which numbered about 15, tilting the front wheel of Haines' motorcycle up while Haines was on it.

"I guess that's when they beat me and shot me. I don't even remember getting shot. The paramedics had to tell me. I didn't even believe them when they said Matt was dead," Coleman said.

What happened next is hazy, Coleman said. He remembered "the police under fire and returning fire."

At one point, Coleman said, he was within two feet of Haines, who was uttering his last words. "I couldn't hear what he said. He was saying something."

The irony of the attack did not escape Coleman, who said he and Haines were appalled by the jury verdicts that prompted riots around the country. Both men believed that the four officers accused of brutally beating King were guilty, he said.

Wearing a dangling earring on his left ear and sporting shoulder-length brown hair, a beard and a mustache, Coleman seems anything but a symbol of the white Establishment.

Haines and Coleman were avid fans of the television show "Star Trek," which they admired because it depicted a world in which people of all races could live together harmoniously.

"Matt summed it up when he (said) . . . 'Star Trek' is the only show about the future that has black people in it," said Coleman, who was surrounded in his living room by model kits of a Klingon battle cruiser, posters of the USS Enterprise and other "Star Trek" memorabilia.

Is he optimistic about race relations?

"What I'd like to see," Coleman said, is a world like the one created some 25 years ago on "Star Trek." "That's how Matt perceived everything--creating a world with no prejudice and no racism," Coleman said. "He wished the world would be like the one Gene Roddenberry made."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
61°