Ramona Ripston, Director, A.C.L.U. of Southern California, December 9, 1991
WALKER. Is this poster in any way violating Chief Gates' civil rights?
RIPSTON. You mean doing a political poster? Absolutely not, I can show you cartoons that aren't very flattering of me. You know, look at Conrad, this is in the best tradition of America, I mean that's a way of making a statement. Whether you particularly like the statement, I don't like some of the cartoons I've seen in which I've been depicted. I mean I haven't liked the way they've depicted me you know, but, that's the way, that's what art is, cartoonists are artists too. I mean that's what I think, that's my opinion.
WALKER. So Gates rights haven't been...
RIPSTON. No. Not at all. He's a public figure. If you thrust yourself on to public attention, then you have to accept what comes with it. The same with me, I shoot off my mouth about all sorts of things all the time and I have to be able to take the criticism that comes with that and if I can't take it, I shouldn't be doing this and he shouldn't be saying those things if he can't take the criticism.
WALKER. What do you feel are the implications of him saying "casual drug users ought to be taken out and shot" to a Senate Judiciary Committee? What does that tell you?
RIPSTON. It tells me that he doesn't have the basic respect for the law that a law enforcement official should have. After all, he is sworn to uphold the law. First of all in the United States we have something called "due process." Nobody, under any condition should be punished without a fair trial so he doesn't talk about that and secondly, every bit of evidence I've read, indicate that casual drug use is not a problem in this country, that's not what we're talking about, we're talking about drug pushers, we're talking about people who are addicted, having programs for people who are addicted, but we're not talking about or thinking that casual drug users are in any way a major problem in this country.
WALKER. Do you think the poster in anyway makes a "scapegoat" of Gates, that he was the sole cause of Los Angeles' problem back in March. Because of him, something like the Rodney King attack happened. Just specifically, does the poster make a scapegoat of Gates?
RIPSTON. I don't think the poster makes a scapegoat of Gates. I don't think he's entirely responsible for what happened in March. What I do believe is that he condoned a certain amount of racism in the department by making intemperate, often racist statements themselves and for not punishing officers who acted or sent over the computers, racist statements, but he's not alone responsible for it. Who is responsible?
WALKER. Well, there is no one person, the city's in transition.
RIPSTON. That's right, there is no one person, but he certainly sets the tone in the police department. (that depends on who you talk too...)
WALKER. (story about the police stopping us on the sidewalk while filming his posters)
RIPSTON. Well, he is supported by many of the police officers, but I wouldn't say he's supported by all.
WALKER. Do you think (this poster) is in anyway Robbie violating his first amendment rights?
RIPSTON. No, it's not slanderous. It's a statement of political idea, whether one agrees with that idea or not, um, art is art, Paul Conrad runs a cartoon in the L.A. Times almost daily. That is art. People agree with him, people disagree with him... absolutely
WALKER. (story about police stopping Robbie)
WALKER. What rights would Robbie have if he were stopped putting up those posters?
RIPSTON. Well, there's certainly been examples of police officers harassing people who express a certain point of view, but they can't use the authority of the law and they can't arrest anyone, they can't arrest anybody.
WALKER. What about the defacing of public property?
RIPSTON. Now well, if he's putting up a poster in a place where, you know, posters are prohibited he could be charged with defacing property because he nailed or glued something, that would be different. But I can tell you all over Venice beach are those posters, all over (laughs)
WALKER. In Gate's Playboy interview, he talks about that even if the Rodney King attack hadn't have been videotaped, surely there would have been a complaint filed, and surely the exact same investigation would have taken place.
RIPSTON. No, in this office, we have received through the years thousands of complaints from people who have been mistreated from the police department and the sheriff's department. Now, not all of them rise to the level of Rodney King, not all people are so severely beaten but we've known of people who have been shot and killed. There's the Ula Love killing, five foot two women with a knife, shot to death. If that video camera had not been there, the kind of investigation we had, the Christopher Commission report would not have happened. It was the video camera that really sparked the public outrage. What it said to everybody throughout the world was that this kind of a beating can happen. It is no secret that judges and juries always believe police officers as opposed to an African-American with a record. They would never have believed him. Daryl Gates can say what he wants. I don't think any of us who have watched police misconduct through the years believe that the same thing would have happened if that episode had not been filmed.
(chat - censorship, billboard, L.A. Times article about sculpture piece)
WALKER. Can political art make a change in society?
RIPSTON. Oh absolutely, I think political artwork is something that all people understand and it sends a message, you might not like the message, but that is the purpose of political artwork, to send a message to people. Some people will reject that message and other people will accept it as true and it's one of the vehicles we have for making change in this country. I think political artwork is very important.
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