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Compton Residents Rally to Their Own Defense : Cities: Embittered by what they claim are unfair depictions of their city, residents hold a unity march to send a different message.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In Spanish and English, to the hand-clapping rhythm of gospel music as well as the more sedate tempo of a song for Our Lady of Guadalupe, 500 Compton residents joined a “unity rally” Sunday to insist that portrayals of their community as ethnically divided are unwarranted.

“We gather together . . . as a declaration of our determined resolve to live together in harmony,” said the Rev. Reuben P. Anderson, who as the head of Tower of Faith Church, one of Compton’s most influential black congregations, was one of the rally organizers. “We recognize the ethnic diversity among us . . . yet we realize we have more in common that binds us together than issues that would divide us.”

Anderson and other speakers--appearing at the rally at a sun-baked Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza in the city’s civic center--denounced the media and outsiders whom they said had overemphasized tensions between Latinos, who make up about half the city’s 93,500 residents, and African Americans, who dominate city government and school district staff.

Ongoing efforts to mediate the concerns of the two groups suffered a setback earlier this month when a Compton police officer, who is black, was videotaped beating a Latino teen-ager.

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Since then, some Latino leaders have called for the resignation of Compton’s police chief and characterized the incident as an example of the neglect and mistreatment of Latinos by the city’s African American power structure.

The incident was hardly mentioned on Sunday, however, as speakers sought to shift attention from the city’s problems with gangs, drugs, corruption and police violence to the positive activities of its largely working-class citizens.

“It’s been reported that we have 3,000 gang members,” said Leroy W. Grayson, president of the Compton Chamber of Commerce. “But there are 97,000 hard-working, neighborhood-loving people . . . in this community, and this . . . is the real Compton.

“While no one person can reverse negative media coverage of Compton overnight, the struggle to tell the rest of the story begins today,” Grayson said.

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Another speaker, Compton Community College instructor Loretta M. Bailes, said “to say that people are not frustrated would be a lie.”

But, she said, “we stand together with a commitment that we can solve our problems.”

Father Clif, pastor of Our Lady of Victory Church, which is predominantly Latino, said the churches and other civic groups that organized the event will continue working together to address local issues, including affirmative action in the city’s hiring practices to bring in more Latinos.

“We’re not denying any of the problems, but there is more good news than bad news,” he said.

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