In the aftermath of the recent tragic civil unrest in Los Angeles, Calif., hundreds of Latter-day Saints joined thousands of volunteers to help clean up the riot-torn areas and to provide relief efforts.
Church members offering assistance came mainly from the Los Angeles, Los Angeles Inglewood, Los Angeles North Hollywood, Los Angeles Van Nuys, Pasadena, Chino, Long Beach, Long Beach North, and Palos Verdes California stakes.The riots, which continued for three days, were primarily in south-central Los Angeles and spread to surrounding communities. The unrest was sparked April 29 after a jury acquitted four Los Angeles policemen accused of beating Rodney King, a black motorist. Rioters looted and burned commercial businesses and some homes. More than 7,100 National Guardsmen, Marines, police and federal agents joined forces to establish order. When the smoke cleared, 55 people were dead and more than 2,300 were injured. Damage estimates have reached $717 million.
Church members in the Los Angeles area were not immune to the tragedy. At least eight Latter-day Saints had their businesses looted and/or burned. Three members suffered injuries. Two were pulled from their cars. One was beaten and the other was shot in the hand. A third member was shot in the shoulder while driving down a freeway. No LDS meetinghouses were reported damaged.
Keith Atkinson, the Church's director of public affairs in California, extolled the "wonderful character of compassion" on the part of the volunteers – regardless of religious or ethnic background.
He related that on May 2, personal and baby supplies from the bishops' storehouse in nearby Colton, Calif., were delivered to a local Methodist church for distribution. On the same day, scores of LDS volunteers joined others in cleaning up the ravaged areas of Los Angeles.
"A lot of people went out on their own," he recalled. "They took brooms and shovels and went out as teams and swept up debris."
In addition, Brother Atkinson said many people of all faith and ethnic groups joined to protect local businesses from looters and rioters. "I found it inspiring and gratifying to see good-hearted people draw together to protect businesses and homes in their community."
The area most affected by the riots is included in the Los Angeles California Stake, especially the USC and Wilshire wards. Stake Pres. Howard B. Anderson spoke of the "support among the members and how they rallied and helped each other."
Most of the students in the USC Ward were taken in by other stake members for protection, he said.
On Sunday, May 3, Pres. Anderson attended fast and testimony meeting in the Los Angeles 2nd (Korean) Branch, of which four members lost their businesses and one had his business looted. He related how he became emotional as branch members sang "Come, Come Ye Saints," which declares "All is well."
He said he usually thinks of that song in a pioneer context, "but I will never hear that song again and not think of those Korean people and their upbeat attitude."
Ironically, the Saturday before the riots, stake members conducted a emergency preparedness drill. "When the riots began Wednesday, the bishops implemented the plan again," related Pres. Henderson.
Organized into groups, people began phoning members to verify their safety. They then reported to their bishops, who reported the condition of the wards to Pres. Anderson.
"We had no idea we'd have to implement the plan so quickly," he noted.
Church members responded quickly to joining the relief efforts. The Palos Verdes California Stake joined with the South Bay/Harbor Interreligious Council, a coalition of area faith groups of which the Church is a member, to collect food and clothing for the needy and homeless.
Douglas M. Rawlings, stake public affairs director and president of the coalition, explained that on May 2-3, members of the stake donated 40 van and pickup truckloads of food and clothing to a distribution center operated by an area Baptist church.
After delivering the supplies, members then divided into two groups, some helping at the distribution center, while others joined with hundreds of volunteers at a supermarket to prepare 250,000 family food packages.
The Long Beach and Long Beach California North stakes combined resources to feed about 400 National Guardsmen and policemen stationed in Long Beach, which is near the southern part of Los Angeles.
Robert Ward, president of the Long Beach stake, explained that he received a call early Saturday afternoon, May 2, from the Red Cross requesting food for the soldiers and police officers. By 4 p.m., he said stake members delivered spaghetti and casserole dinners to a Red Cross center, which then shipped the food to the nearby National Guard headquarters.
"The Red Cross, the police and the military were overjoyed because they had great home-cooked food," added Pres. Ward.
Notable during the clean-up efforts in Los Angeles was the cooperation among various faith groups. Edward V. Hill II, whose father is pastor of the Baptist church where Palos Verdes stake members donated food and clothing, spoke of the good that came from this cooperation when he told LDS volunteers: "Although we are of different denominations, we want you to know we have nothing but love for you folks. We are brothers and sisters." – Julie A. Dockstader