In a West Los Angeles meeting that took on a sorrowful, contemplative tone, about a dozen speakers on Monday told the special commission investigating Los Angeles Police Department performance during the riots that they had lost faith in the police.
"A doctor, a nurse, a policeman, a fireman--we always believed they'd come to your aid," said Brigitte W. Landy, a vice president of the Westdale Homeowners Assn. "Not anymore. You can't rely on them."
"There was no response," said Janet Davis. "There was fear of the community because they (police) don't have a relationship to the community. They are not doing their job right."
Among the 40 people who attended a meeting of the Webster commission at Webster Junior High School were several who portrayed the police as brutal racists and exploiters of the poor and politically powerless.
Mona Romero, who said she works with refugees in the Pico-Union district, said police went into the homes of many refugees after the unrest without warrants and seized merchandise that appeared to be new.
She accused police of taking a bed belonging to a woman who was eight months pregnant.
"To this day there are kids who have not had their bikes returned," she said.
She pleaded for the police to develop better relationships with young people.
Bill Greenberg said he could not get officers to confiscate goods stolen from his South-Central Los Angeles hardware store that was looted and burned to the ground. He knew where the merchandise was for a week after the riots, he said, but was unable to get police to raid the house where his ladders and paints were held.
Speakers said that the Los Angeles police lost control of the rioting immediately with an inadequate show of force that extended through the second day of unrest.
Ed Henson, a former correctional supervisor who lives in the Mid-Wilshire district, said most of the rioting in his neighborhood occurred on the second day. "The response the (second) day should have been massive so that the word that was going out on the airwaves would have been normalcy instead of anarchy," he said.
But Alan Hamilton, who identified himself as a three-year Police Department veteran, said that "by the time the police arrive (in a riot) it's already too late." Social structures have failed, he said.
Monday night's session was the fifth in a series of seven public meetings scheduled by the Webster commission at schools around the city.
The commission is named after William H. Webster, former director of the CIA and FBI. In the aftermath of the riots, the city's Police Commission appointed him as its special adviser to study the performance of the Police Department.
Appointed as deputy special adviser was Hubert Williams, former chief of the Newark, N.J., Police Department and now head of the Police Foundation, a think tank on law enforcement issues.
Webster did not attend Monday's meeting because of what commission staff described as a longstanding prior commitment in Washington.
The last meeting is scheduled for Hollenbeck Junior High School, at 2510 East 6th Street, on Sept. 22. The meeting will begin at 7 p.m.
Webster and Williams have assembled a staff of 22 volunteer lawyers. They have conducted more than 350 interviews of government officials and police, and have overseen a telephone survey of 1,000 Los Angeles residents.
Most of those polled attributed the slow Police Department response to a lack of leadership and planning, although they sympathized with the department's shortage of resources.
Most blamed the riots on underlying racial tensions and poverty, rather than on the acquittals of police officers in the videotaped beating of black motorist Rodney G. King.
The acquittals were announced a few hours before the rioting began. It quickly spread to become the worst civil unrest in the United States in this century.
In earlier public meetings in South-Central and Central Los Angeles, the Webster commission has received an earful from residents who said they are fed up with police brutality and racism, and angered by police inaction and callousness during the riots.