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Another riot possible, L.A. residents say

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As Los Angeles burned and looters rampaged throughout the city in 1992 following the acquittal of the officers in the Rodney King beating case, King asked: "Can't we all just get along?"

Five years after the riot, 61 percent of Los Angeles residents believe it is possible for another riot to break out in the next five years, according to a study released recently.The poll by the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University contained mixed messages of optimism and pessimism about the state of the city, race relations and the future.

"We are seeing both hope and fear, optimism and skepticism," said Fernando Guerra, the center's director. "While people see the problems and are worried about them, they also see reason to be pleased. What seems to be missing is a unifying theme, something that can truly bring people together."

The poll, conducted April 5-15, is heavily concentrated on residents in the inner city and areas that were most impacted by the riots. In all, 650 residents over the age of 18 were questioned, with half in the riot-impacted areas. Guerra said the poll has a 3 percent to 5 percent margin of error.

What concerns him is that - judging from earlier polls - there has been virtually no shift in the numbers of people since just after the riots who believe another outbreak of violence is possible, even though people say they are better off financially.

The pessimism may stem from the respondents' perception of race relations in the city. A total of 58.7 percent said they are not good, Guerra said.

Meanwhile, the public might be disappointed by the lack of work that has been done to rebuild the city.

"In November 1992, people were more optimistic with all the talk of rebuilding," Guerra said. "Now, nobody is talking about rebuilding, and they see areas where a lot of work is still needed."

Although residents were pessimistic about the state of the city, they were more upbeat about their neighborhoods, Guerra said.

For instance, 47.8 percent said the city is going in the wrong direction, while better than 44 percent said their neighborhoods are headed in the right direction.

Even as crime has dropped steadily over the past five years, 69.1 percent said they remain concerned over the prospect of random violence, with 66.9 percent saying there are areas within one mile of their homes where they are afraid to walk.