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LAPD Blasted for Riot Response : Meeting: Pico-Union and Koreatown residents tell Webster panel police abandoned them in their time of need.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Criticizing the police for inaction and callousness during the riots, about 100 people from one of the most heavily damaged neighborhoods in the city vented their anger Friday night before a special panel investigating the Los Angeles Police Department’s response during the upheaval.

In contrast to previous community meetings that focused on complaints of police brutality and racism, Friday night’s crowd from the Pico-Union and Koreatown areas lambasted the department for abandoning the community in its time of need.

“The blacks complain that the police response is racist,” said Terry Dusoleil, a neighborhood block captain in Pico-Union. “We didn’t have anything to complain about because we didn’t have any police response in Pico-Union.”

Richard Kim, whose family owned an electronics store in Koreatown, said officers heard gunfire and drove away, leaving his mother bleeding on the sidewalk from a gunshot wound to the thigh.

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His mother was finally helped by a Korean youth who cared for her until paramedics arrived.

“Had the young man not been there, my mother might not have made it out,” Kim said.

City Councilman Mike Hernandez joined the chorus of complaints, saying it seemed as if protecting Pico-Union was a low priority to police.

“In April, for whatever reason, there was no government assistance in this area. For three days we tried to find police officers. There were none,” he said. “There were conscious efforts to move officers from this area to other areas.”

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The meeting Friday night was the fourth in an ongoing series being conducted by a panel headed by former CIA and FBI chief William Webster and Hubert Williams, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Police Foundation.

The session at Berendo Junior High was in the heart of an area ravaged by the rioting and where criticism of the LAPD for slow response has run particularly high. During the rioting, many frustrated Korean merchants armed themselves to protect their stores and bitterly complained that police ignored looters.

Three previous public meetings were held in South-Central Los Angeles, where predominantly African-American audiences complained that the LAPD has a history of poor service and brutality in the inner city.

The Webster-Williams panel, which was created by the city Police Commission, is expected to issue a report next month.

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Although the panel’s focus is limited to the LAPD’s handling of the upheaval, the meetings have at times taken on a larger role as an outlet for complaints and frustration of residents on a variety of social issues underlying the unrest. In the most affected neighborhoods, they have been the only official, post-riot inquiry that has reached out for comment.

Friday’s hearing drew a diverse audience of Asian-Americans, Latinos, Anglos and African-Americans.

Their comments during and after the session were largely unified on the theme of police inaction and abandonment of the community.

Connie Choi, whose family owned two liquor stores in Los Angeles before the riots, told how they pleaded with police for help but “they didn’t do anything.”

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The family said one of their stores burned to the ground. They armed themselves and spent two weeks protecting their other store from the roof, Choi said.

At one point, she said, her mother asked police officers on the street to help them fend off looters, to no avail.

Dusoleil said that during the height of the riots, she called the police telling them that she was a block captain, but was told that there was a state of emergency and Neighborhood Watch did not exist.

“Two years of working together with the police meant nothing,” she said.

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The public meetings resume Monday at 7 p.m. at Webster Junior High in West Los Angeles.


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