Conference Examines Riots' Impact on Koreans


The economic and emotional devastation that Korean immigrants suffered in last year's riots is changing what they value in life, experts said at a national conference on the Korean-American community at USC over the weekend.

"Their immediate concern is no longer money but safety, mental well-being and community participation," said John D. Song, a former education professor whose printing shop was destroyed during the riots. "They want to work less, live and work in a safe area and spend more time with their families."

The changing attitude has also caused nearly 600 riot victims to seek psychological counseling despite a general cultural aversion to going outside the immediate family with problems, said Chong-Sook Suh, director of the Asian Pacific Counseling and Treatment Center in Koreatown. More than half of those who sought help were prescribed anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications, she said.

Song and Suh were two of the more than 60 community leaders, scholars, journalists and religious leaders addressing critical issues facing the Korean-American community in what they hope will be the first of a series of conferences.

Song said most small-business owners in Koreatown want to move to the suburbs because of the high crime rate in urban Los Angeles. But it is not something most can afford to do in these difficult times.

"They're saying 'What's the point of working 12 and 15 hours a day seven days a week just to become a victim of robbery and get killed?' " Song said, referring to a rash of shootings of Korean-American merchants this year.

Since last month, 13 Korean-American merchants in the Los Angeles area were wounded or killed in shootings at or near their businesses. In the Feb. 27 shooting death of Nam-Suk Koh, owner of a market in Long Beach, a mob looted the small market even as Koh lay bleeding to death. Ten days ago, a Korean-American owner of a bicycle shop in Monrovia was shot to death by a 12-year-old boy who bragged about the killing to his friends.

Angela Oh, president of the Korean-American Bar Assn., accused law enforcement officials of failing to protect Korean-American business people. Authorities are so preoccupied with a potential riot in the aftermath of the federal trial of four police officers that they are ignoring the people they should be protecting, she said.

Oh urged the mostly Korean-American audience to join her and others at a candlelight vigil and memorial service for the victims scheduled tonight at Los Angeles City Hall.

Some of the most heated discussions during the two-day conference centered on the mainstream media's coverage of the friction between the African-American and Korean-American communities.

Architect David Hyun, a community leader, charged that news reports about the prosecution of Soon Ja Du poisoned relations between blacks and Koreans.

"The media summary repeated that Latasha Harlins, a black teen-ager of South-Central L.A., was shot in the back of her head by Soon Ja Du, a Korean woman merchant, in a dispute over a bottle of orange juice," Hyun said. "This summary is racist, misleading and provocative.

Kapson Yim Lee, editor of the Korea Times English Edition in Los Angeles, decried what she called the mainstream media's double standard in covering the Korean-American community.

When the victim of a crime is a Korean, they don't mention the race, Lee said, but in an isolated case where the victim is African-American, the fact is mentioned.

Lee said the community would have preferred that in the case of the recent killing of a Korean-American bicycle shop owner, the media identify the 12-year-old alleged killer as being black.

Han-Wook Lee, reporter for the Hankook Ilbo, the largest Korean-language newspaper in the United States, invited reporters and editors of the mainstream media to get to know those in the ethnic media.

"Immediately after the riots, our newsroom received many calls," he said. He said he was appalled that mainstream journalists knew so little about the Korean-American community.

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