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  Bulls' NBA Victory Sparks Chicago Riots

By Michael Abramowitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 16, 1992; Page A01

CHICAGO, JUNE 15 – As Michael Jordan and the newly crowned professional basketball champion Bulls partied with 18,000 delirious fans inside Chicago Stadium Sunday evening, an ugly orgy of violence and looting unfolded in neighborhoods scattered around this city, authorities said today.

Police reported more than 1,000 arrests on charges of burglary, theft, mob action, disorderly conduct and damage to property, all in the hours following the Bulls' dramatic come-from-behind victory against the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 6 of the National Basketball Association Finals for their second consecutive championship.

There were scores of injuries, nearly all of them minor. No one was killed. Among those injured were 95 police officers, two of whom received minor gunshot wounds. Three civilians were shot, two by storekeepers and one by the police, according to a police spokesman. The owner of a South Side liquor store and an employee received second-degree burns when looters attacked their establishment.

Although drunken revelry is still the most common mass response to sports championships, violence of the type that occurred here late Sunday and early today is becoming more common. Last year, after the Bulls' first NBA championship, the looting was less widespread, there were 100 arrests and no serious injuries or deaths.

But in Detroit in 1990, seven were killed after the Pistons won the NBA title and one died in 1984 after the Tigers won the World Series.

Sunday night, thousands of people poured out of the Rush and Division Street bars after the game, destroying two taxicabs and dancing in the streets.

But looters also burned 14 buildings in poor neighborhoods on Chicago's South and West sides and looted an uncounted number of stores, carrying away armloads of shoes, clothes, carpeting and other merchandise, the authorities said. Looters even ignored a plea from Bulls superstar Jordan, who went on local television shortly before 11 p.m. and urged, "Let's not tear our city apart."

"This had nothing to do with the Bulls – it was much too violent to be celebrating something," said Ron Wells, owner of the Heavenly Hair Beauty Salon in West Garfield Park, the site of some of the worst looting. "It was terribly scary. People were running on top of cars and everything."

Wells was lucky; his establishment escaped serious damage. But only a few blocks away, Kenneth Kim watched with red eyes as firefighters finished hosing down his smoldering Diana Department Store, a four-story clothing and shoe store that was almost completely destroyed by looters.

Kim said about 100 youths charged in the back door and set fire to the merchandise with lit newspapers. He estimated the damage at more than $5 million.

"I don't deserve what happened," said Kim, 38, a Korean American who opened Diana in the late 1970s and is the president of the neighborhood Chamber of Commerce. "I gave 12 years community service in the area. I spent a half million dollars to fix up the place, remodel the store. They blew it. I know they're hurting me. But they're hurting themselves more."

Although a number of the establishments torched Sunday night were owned by Korean Americans, anti-Korean sentiment appeared to be only one ingredient in the violence, according to area residents and the authorities. Kim and other Korean businessmen interviewed said they did not appear to be a major target of the looters, as Korean businesses were in Los Angeles during the deadly riots there a few weeks ago.

"People were just crazy," Kim said. Much of the mayhem appeared to be indiscriminate, with looters breaking windows in targets as diverse as the Post Office and telephone payment center in West Garfield Park and swanky boutiques along North Michigan Avenue.

Chicago Police Superintendent Matt Rodriguez told reporters this morning that there was so much criminal activity Sunday night that more than 1,300 extra officers deployed on the streets could not stop every act of lawlessness, especially at the outset of the looting. He cited several reasons for the explosion, including the hot weather, the excitement of the final game and the "post-Rodney King" environment.

"What happened was very sporadic. It happened all over the city," he said. "We got a handle on it in a couple of hours."

Rodriguez appeared at a news conference with Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, who sought to play down the night's violence by noting that "ninety-nine point nine percent of the people aren't out there looting and shooting and doing things."

"What can you do?" Daley asked. "When people have an excuse to loot, they loot. When people have an excuse to shoot, they shoot."

The night's mayhem represented a setback to city officials and community leaders, who have worked assiduously in the weeks after the Los Angeles riots to keep the city cool.

"There was a recognition that things could blow," said Robert Sampson, a sociology professor at the University of Chicago and an expert on crime.

To a great extent, these efforts seemed to have been working. There was only scattered violence in the aftermath of the verdict in the Rodney G. King beating case, despite high unemployment, urban blight, crime and the same hopelessness in some Chicago neighborhoods that characterized south-central Los Angeles.

Garfield Park, for instance, was torched during the last great urban riots, during the late 1960s and remains a neighborhood marked by vacant property, abandoned storefronts and a thriving drug trade. Mary Nelson, who has lived in the neighborhood since the last riots, said many of the looters were motivated by a "now mentality" that says, "Here's my chance to get something without thinking of the consequences."

"I have no excuses for it; it was honest to goodness hooliganism," said Nelson, who heads a local community group. But, she said, "Underlying it is the economic need."

A disconsolate Jong Park, 32, sat on a chair amid the broken glass and rubble that had been his Madison's Men's Wear store. Looters used a crow bar to smash through the protective metal wall covering his store and took or burned everything.

He said he pleaded for protection from police who told him they were too busy then to come to his aid.

Similar scenes were playing out along affluent North Michigan Avenue, the collection of expensive department stores and boutiques known as the "Magnificent Mile." Although the damage was nowhere near as great as on the South and West sides, about nine stores had their windows smashed and some merchandise was taken.

At Stuart Brent Books, a well-known bookstore in the city, looters smashed the windows and simply threw books all along the sidewalk. The stunned proprietor could barely conceal his anger and frustration. "I have no explanation for it," said Brent, who has operated the store for 47 years. "Think of the shame they brought to one of the three or four great streets in America. The thing that frightens me is how close we are to barbarism."

Special correspondent Lauren Ina contributed to this report.

© Copyright 1992 The Washington Post Company

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