Interview with Daryl F. Gates, Chief of Police, Los Angeles Police Department
December 11, 1991 Parker Center Building, Los Angeles
WALKER. I'd like to get you to sign a release for the photography were about to do.
GATES. Oh no. I want my money, before. I always get my money before hand. That's not the way we do this?
WALKER. Um possibly, but this is very low budget...
GATES. (Laughing.) Oh well, I've been working with a low budget for years.
WALKER. Okay. One thing we're trying to do is to create an intelligent dialogue for all that's happened in the last year or two...
GATES. That's impossible for me, call it dialogue, I don't know what's going to be an intelligent dialogue
WALKER. We filmed the July 22 meeting at City Council, that's the day you came in and read you statement to the Council about your plans...
GATES. I'm trying to remember that.
WALKER. It was like 5 o'clock on a Monday afternoon and you had a short press conference in the city room afterwards.
GATES. Oh this was on the, the uh, on my, the decision.
WALKER. On your resignation.
GATES. Oh, oh, okay. Is that July? my god...
WALKER. It just seems to me that everybody is just waiting for you to make one flick of your wrist, one sound bite that they can lift and make a run with. Do you feel that's an occupational risk.
GATES. Yeah, in this job that I am in, the media has always been interested in what the Chief does, what the chief says, uh and in particularly as it relates to what the police department does and what it says. So, the media attention that I received is not anything new, and even in the intensity of the attention that's been given since the Rodney King incident, uh, the only difference is the intensity, uh and some cases I suppose it got a little nastier because you cannot help as Chief of Police, if you're reasonably outspoken, to make a few enemies here and there and I've done that, so this is the time for those who have said, "we'd like to get him out of there" uh, this is the time for them to close in.
WALKER. Do you think you became a "scape goat" for the problems in Los Angeles. Everyone seemed to single you out as the main problem.
GATES. I think to some degree, but I think there's much more to it then just a scapegoat, as I mentioned, you can't help but build some enemies, some who would like to see change and for a variety of reasons. Some of those who always believed I was going to go into politics and I was a threat in that arena. There are those who would like to see the complexion of the department change in a variety of ways and so we build animosity there. Those in the media who would like to shut this guy up, the Los Angeles Times for example, I've never had an opportunity to go by where I have not said something nasty about the Los Angeles Times. If ever there's an opportunity to say something about them I take that opportunity so.
WALKER. I'm going to give you a chance in a second because there's something I want to show you.
GATES. yea, so, so there's a group there who say okay, we've got this opportunity to get rid of this guy and when we get rid of him we get rid of that criticism that may or may not hurt us.
WALKER. I know you've talked this to death and I want to talk about it again is the comment that you made to the Senate Judiciary Committee on casual drug users. This is an example of the media taking something that you said and running with it and using it against you, viciously against you. I'm curious, what was you total statement?
GATES. Well this came up in the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing and it was part of an hour and a half of testimony for that committee and it came up in a discussion of people who are "casual drug users" and what ought to be done with them, how they should be dealt with and as we got into that discussion, there is a definition of a casual drug user, I can't repeat what it is exactly but use once a week or once a month, something to that nature. We got into that discussion with Senator Joe Biden and my reaction was at that time was that casual drug users are at the core of the problem in the country, had been for a long period of time, so I wanted to express that in as strong a term as I possibly could because I did not think that they were giving it the kind of attention that they ought to and so I simply said, "well casual drug users ought to be taken out and shot." That's hyperbole, that's a way you get your point across and I got my point across, quite well. Interestingly enough, I didn't get it too well across to anyone in the committee because senators kind of chuckled, Commissioner Lee Brown who was testifying with me, Lee knows me very well, he chuckled, there were a couple of chuckles in the audience and that was it. Even when I went out afterwards in the corridor and I was approached by the electronic media, they just kind of glossed over it. It was the Los Angeles Times quite frankly one of the best reporters they've got, who asked me about it and I knew at the time that the Los Angeles Times, if anyone, would ask me about it and uh, they would make something out of it. So I calculated it. When I saw Ron (Ronald J. Ostrow) come over that he was going to ask me about it and I was going to react in a way that would get people's attention and so I did.
WALKER. One thing I want to show you is, one of the things in our film is political figures represented through art... (hands Gates L.A. Times article on Conal's poster)
GATES. My favorite artist.
WALKER. I'm just curious as to what you think of that, if that was, if you think that's a clever use of what you said or if that's just extremely viscous.
GATES. Well, I th.., frankly I think it's a viscous play on words and art and for this reason, anyone with any common sense today who spends any time reading and what's happening in our world, recognizes that when you give people ideas like this, uh, quite likely there's some person with an aberrant behavior that is liable to take you up on it and so to paint a, to take my picture and paint a target on it, and then talk about shooting is something that's far too suggestive and uh, a so I think it's the worst kind of art and the worst kind of suggestive art. I've got enough and have had enough problems with people threatening my life now and so I know there's a lot of nuts out there and to give them this message I think is highly inappropriate.
That's the Los Angeles Times uh, to go back some years ago, the Los Angeles Times when they just came out with their magazine uh, almost one of the first or second or third issues of their magazines, they had on the front cover what they thought was good art and the art was uh, oh boy now, who's the, just drew a blank, what's the uh, a uh...
GATES. uh, no the uh, in fact I just saw it on television for the very first time. It was a big Steven Spielberg uh, uh
GATES. E.T. yea, anyway they had a picture of E.T. on the cover and around E.T.'s throat, hanging from his throat was a chain with a coke spoon on it. Now here's a film that grabbed the hearts of kids all over the world and a symbol to those kids of love and care and thoughtfulness and the Los Angeles Times prints something with a coke spoon around it's neck, that's the Los Angeles Times for you, uh so I'm not.
WALKER. One last question on that, do you feel your civil rights were violated. These were put up on city property: traffic light switching boxes, construction sites. Would you ever think of suing someone like that for slander?
GATES. No. No. I'm not the suing type. Sure my civil rights are violated but as Chief of Police you don't get involved in civil suits of that kind.
WALKER. In the Playboy interview, you stated that if the Rodney King hadn't have been taped that you thought it still would have come to an investigation, people being on trial. Do you think that's true even if that blatant visual image hadn't of existed.
GATES. Well, I don't think there's any question about it because there were witnesses, there were people who observed it, there was a whole bus that stopped for a short period of time and viewed part of it, the physical injuries of the individual did not match up with the reported injuries uh, it's clear that in any kind of assessment of what took place that it would have come out just uh, no question about it.
WALKER. What are your plans right now, what was, you're gonna retire, you're gonna "not work" anymore, I don't know what the term is that you've used for it.
GATES. (laughs) Frankly I don't know yet, I really don't, I really haven't set a retirement date as yet. I talked about April but now I'm talking more in terms of June if they continue with the changes, the charter changes that were required going to the people and a ballot measure and that would be in June and my feeling is I will stay until that's resolved uh, if they take it off the ballot then I might leave some time late in April. And I have no plans, I'm trying to finish up a book, that's much more difficult than I thought it was going to be, I thought it was going to be pretty easy but its tough. Anybody who thinks about writing a book, let me tell you it's a tough job. I'm trying to get that finished. That should be out in April, I think it should be out in April or May. Bantam, Bantam books
WALKER. One of the artists on that stated to me that he had hoped that this poster could put an end to your book deal.
GATES. (laughs) Well that's nonsense because the book deal was made prior to this and contracts signed prior to this so that has no validity whatsoever uh, and I still come back to this because he may be an artist but he's not thinking and he's not up to date on current events. Soon as I finish this I'm going to go in and talk to "48 hours" and one of the things we're going to talk about is the whole phenomena of "stalking," people who for one reason or another have a fixation on an individual and stalk that person and then it creates, ends in some kind of violent act, movie stars that are shot, people in public life who are killed, and this is the kind of thing that creates that and uh, so he's not thinking. My view is what he did it was the shock value. That's exactly what he did it for to get attention. He realized this was an opportunity to trade on some of the attention that was being given to this whole incident, national publicity, and that's what he was doing. That's the only thing he was doing. Not for art's sake. Probably no one ever heard of him outside of of a very small circle..
WALKER. Well he's actually pretty notorious for this type of thing. He gets a great deal of press. One thing that happened for him shortly after, this was April, was, the city gave him a grant for $10,000 to do a billboard of Oliver North, a cross comparison between Joseph McCarthy and Oliver North. The check signed by Tom Bradley. Do you think this was the city rewarding him for his previous efforts?
GATES. The city is not known for spending its money wisely so that's not unusual.
WALKER. I would like to get a close-up shot of your DARE pin.
GATES. Sure. What are you going to do with this, Clay?
WALKER. We are making a film that, we've been doing it for about 2 years. We've been doing this on 7 credit cards. (Gates laughs) We had no intelligent financial rational behind our motivations. A lot of it has that artist in it... .... We filmed a lot of other things. We went to Washington and filmed Robert Gates being confirmed to the C.I.A.. I'm not exactly sure how it fits in to all of this...
GATES. Well one of the ways it relates to me is that every thing that was said negatively about Robert Gates in the Los Angeles Times, most of the time they just said Gates uh, and seriously a lot of people have commented on those kinds of negative comments about Robert Gates thinking that Robert Gates was me. Was the Gates, because they only used Gates, that they were talking about me...
WALKER. That's true. A lot of people told us oh-no, the Chief of Police is going to be confirmed to the head of the C.I.A.
GATES. I've gotten that all over, and I've taken that. In fact, at one time I wrote to the Times because they had used uh, there was a time when Sheriff Brad Gates was in the news and there were a lot of negative comments about him and so I wrote them and said, "hey, can't you just put Sheriff Gates instead of,(laughs) or Brad Gates in your headlines, not just Gates.
WALKER. One interesting thing about the Playboy interview was that it obviously took place over some time and they would keep asking you, "well how do you feel about your initial reaction to seeing the videotape." What is your reaction to it now?
GATES. To the media?
WALKER. To the entire incident itself. What might have brought such an attack on, what it might have been a reflection of.
GATES. Well, you're talking about my reaction to the incident, the Rodney King thing? Well, I think I've said it many, many times the reaction was one of disbelief. I still think about it and cannot believe that it could have happened within this department and all the systems that were put into place over the years because they knew these kinds of things were likely to happen, had happened in the past and so all the systems were there and in place, they work and uh, so my reaction to it is one of disbelief, I still, its hard for me to believe that Los Angeles police officers, with a Sergeant standing right there would engage in that kind of conduct. But I've been around long enough to know that those things happen and it will probably happen again.
The other thing that made this as big as it did, and I'm convinced, is that it was the end of the war, that people had been glued to that television set night after night after night after night and suddenly it went blank, it went dark and the media had absolutely nothing to put in place of the Generals coming out and talking about their success, the day's successes and so suddenly, there was a need for something dramatic to capture the attention of that audience that was sitting there and saying "is that all?" and along came Rodney King and the media took advantage of that. And I understand that, I never felt that they ought not to have taken advantage of it. I thought it was uh, particularly for the electronic media boy it was live and right there and you could take that dramatic action right into the living rooms of the people across the nation. I never object to that, what I object to, I always have objected to is they're over doing it. The media is very good at overdoing it and I mean they just played it over and over and over again and I think to the extent that the public's reaction finally turned around and they finally said, "hey media, I think you're over doing it" and we benefitted from their over doing it, we the department because I think people began to realize that hey the police department has its faults and this is not right, but you can't destroy the whole police department and that's what you're attempting to do. Electronic media woke up before the print media (loudly taps on L.A. Times article) The print media in this city has been horrible. Electronic media woke up and began to report far more responsibly, most of them, not all of them then the print media. Okay Claaay.
WALKER. Thank you very much.
GATES. Oh you're welcome...Nice to see you again. Thank you, thank you very much.
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