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L.A. Riot Failed to Change Attitudes

By Amy Wallace
Los Angeles Times


Sharply contradicting the popular assumption that the 1992 riots were a "wake-up call" for Los Angeles, a University of California, Los Angeles, survey has found that the cataclysmic events of this spring did very little to alter residents' attitudes about economic, ethnic, political and social life.

In a wide-ranging telephone poll conducted before the verdicts in the Rodney G. King beating case, then repeated immediately after, researchers found the riots did not measurably change residents' perceptions about the quality of life in Los Angeles County. Confidence in local government remained tepid. Fear of crime -- already high -- got no higher.

Even before the civil unrest, Angelenos' felt such despair about their city that "there was little room," said the survey, "to further shift opinion in a negative direction." Before the riots and after, 70 percent or more of respondents in each ethnic group felt that Los Angeles had become a worse place to live during the last five years.

"We often tend to assume that people's basic assumptions are affected by events this dramatic and costly," said Larry Bobo, a UCLA sociology professor and the principal author of the annual study, called the Los Angeles County Social Survey. "But unfortunately, it doesn't appear that a lot of basic assumptions were moved very far."

That bodes poorly, Bobo said, for the future of Los Angeles. Though the survey stops short of predicting another riot, Bobo said its findings support no other conclusion.

The poll consisted of interviews with 1,869 Los Angeles County residents selected at random. Approximately half were interviewed before the riots and half afterward.

The survey results, while overwhelmingly stable, noted a few significant shifts in opinion after April 29, when the verdicts were announced. Among them:

--Asked if they would favor living in a neighborhood where half their neighbors were of a different ethnic group, many more whites said yes after the riots than had before. Among Asians, blacks and Latinos, there was no significant change.

--Blacks became more alienated. Several questions sought to measure how ethnic groups feel about the social and economic opportunities available to them. While the responses of Asians, Latinos and whites were unchanged by the verdicts, the responses of blacks -- and particularly of upper-income blacks -- indicated a "strong and uniform rise in black alienation from American social institutions."

--Confidence in the police declined among whites. Thirteen percent of white respondents expressed "not much" confidence in the police before the riots, as compared to 20.5 percent afterwards. In contrast, the views of Asians, blacks and Latinos remained the same. Before and after the riots, 56 percent of blacks expressed "not much" confidence in the police, as compared to 31.1 percent of Latinos and 26.3 percent of Asians.

In releasing the survey for publication Thursday, UCLA researchers touted it as a historic document that provides a first-ever opportunity to compare public opinion on race and ethnic relations before and after an explosive event.

The survey found that negative stereotyping is fairly common, especially with regard to perceptions of blacks and, to a lesser degree, Latinos. On the average, 45.1 percent of non-blacks rated blacks as lower in intelligence, 63.4 percent rated blacks as more likely to prefer living on welfare and 48.5 percent rated blacks more likely to be hard to get along with.

On the average, 44.6 percent of non-Latinos rated Latinos as less intelligent, 52.2 percent rated them as more likely to prefer being welfare dependent and 34.5 percent rated them as more likely to be difficult to get along with.