Bush Condemns ‘Murder and Destruction’ in Los Angeles
WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush today condemned ″murder and destruction in the streets of Los Angeles″ following the acquittal of four policemen charged in a savage beating recorded on videotape. The Justice Department pressed a federal criminal investigation against the officers.
″We are concerned about any question of excessive police violence, and we are equally concerned about excessive public violence,″ Bush said in a nationally televised appearance in the White House briefing room.
Bush appealed for ″calm and tolerance″ as California officials struggled to deal with the violence that erupted overnight. At least nine people were dead and 138 hurt in the rioting.
Shortly after the president spoke, Attorney General William Barr said he was dispatching a top aide to Los Angeles, and added the federal probe was being pressed ″as expeditiously as possible.″
Barr said the federal investigation was aimed at determining ″whether there was intentional infliction of excessive force″ in violation of the rights of Rodney King, the man beaten by police officers who stopped him for speeding.
Barr, too, denounced the violence.
Neither Barr nor Bush would comment on the verdict returned in the case by the California jury. But the attorney general was at pains to say that a federal prosecution would not violate a Constitutional prohibition against double jeopardy.
He said the federal investigation would review the trial. He said there ″may be some additional evidence,″ but did not elaborate.
Barr said possible federal offenses being investigated included a police conspiracy to deprive someone of his civil rights, or depriving someone of his rights ″under color of law.″ Each carries a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment and $250,000 fine.
At a Justice Department news conference also attended by FBI Director William Sessions, Barr said that since October 1988, his agency has filed charges against 123 law enforcement officers for police brutality, and won convictions against about three-quarters of them.
For his part, Bush urged all Americans to remain calm.
″In the American conscience there is no room for bigotry and racism,″ Bush said.
At the same time, he said, ″the murder and destruction on the streets of Los Angeles must be stopped. Lootings, beatings and random violence ... must be condemned.″
The president spoke at the White House after meeting privately with Barr.
Later, addressing broadcasters in Columbus, Ohio, Bush expressed ″revulsion and pain″ over the mob violence and said, ″Last night was tragic for our country.″
″We must condemn violence, make no apology for the rule of law or the requirement to live by it,″ he said.
″Yes, in some places in America, there is regrettably a cycle of poverty and despair, but if the system perpetuates this cycle, then we’ve got to change the system,″ Bush told the Ohio Association of Broadcasters. ″We simply cannot condone violence as a way of changing the system.″
In Congress, six black lawmakers said in advance of Bush’s appearance that the Justice Department should pursue federal civil rights charges against the four police officers.
Some said the violence could spread. ″The anger is not only in Los Angeles, ″ said Rep. Floyd Flake, D-N.Y. ″The anger is all over this nation.″
Bush also said he had spoken by telephone with California Gov. Pete Wilson and Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley.
In a departure from his customary practice, Bush took no questions from reporters at the conclusion of his prepared remarks.
He said the Justice Department ″will continue its criminal investigation of the police violence case in Los Angeles to ensure that the civil rights laws of our nation are fully and equally applied.
″The Department of Justice has been monitoring this case since its inception and as is customary in these kinds of situations, the Justice Department moved last night to accelerate its investigation.″
Bush also wants a meeting later in the week with community leaders from around the nation, said spokesman Marlin Fitzwater. Fitzwater said Health and Human Services Secretary Louis Sullivan, the only black in the Cabinet, would arrange for the session.
Barr also met today with civil rights leader Jesse Jackson. Afterward, Jackson said Barr told him that a team of Justice Department civil rights prosecutors who attended the state trial was reviewing the case to determine whether to bring federal charges.
″The fact that he has a team there now is clearly an impression to us that they are not waiting,″ Jackson told reporters.
Fitzwater said the president had been kept up to date on the Los Angeles situation until he went to bed Wednesday night and again this morning.
″The only thing I would say about that ... is an appeal for calm and reason in the community,″ Bush told reporters at a state dinner Wednesday night before the extent of the violence was known. ″The court system has worked. What’s needed now is calm, respect for the law. Let the appeals process take place.″
A civil rights prosecution of the officers could be brought with the approval of the attorney general if federal authorities decide that the handling of the case by local authorities did not produce a just result.
One factor in determining whether to bring a federal prosecution could include the judge’s decision to move the trial to an all-white area of Los Angeles County where an all-white jury heard the evidence, said a federal official.
As he arrived at the Justice Department, Jackson told reporters that federal authorities must intervene in the Los Angeles case.
″The Justice Department must step in,″ Jackson said. ″We want the Justice Department to have a presence in Los Angeles.″
The verdict shows ″there has been a breakdown in the justice system in the country. It is not working for black males in the country,″ Jackson said.