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Remarks on Police Brutality and an Exchange With Reporters

March 21, 1991

The President. Marlin, have you told everybody that I will have a statement to say here?

Mr. Fitzwater. Yes, sir.

The President. Want to fire it up?

Mr. Fitzwater. I think we're ready.

The President. Well, let me simply say that I've asked the Attorney General for an update on our crime bill. And he's also going to brief me on the Department's review of allegations of police misconduct generally, and then the Los Angeles case specifically.

We've all seen those shocking videotapes and have seen transcripts of the incident in Los Angeles. And without getting into the specifics of the case, those terrible scenes stir us all to demand an end to gratuitous violence and brutality. Law enforcement officials cannot place themselves above the law that they are sworn to defend. This administration will investigate possible breaches of Federal law aggressively and will prosecute violators to the full extent of the law.

The vast majority of our law enforcement professionals obey the law scrupulously -- even in situations of great danger, even when they suspect that the criminals they arrest soon may go free. These brave men and women need the support of local governments. I have supported, and I will continue to vigorously support, honest police officers who obey the law.

I have in my mind that 83 police officers, just in the last 15 months, have lost their lives in the line of duty. They need the support of the court system, and they need the faith and the support of local citizens. Nothing is more important than defending a sense of national decency and promoting the rule of law.

I was shocked by what I saw in that tape -- that violence. And to the degree there's a Federal role here, I'm confident we will go the extra mile to see that that is fulfilled. I might add that the Attorney General and I remain fully committed to the passage of our crime bill which would give us the tools we need to more effectively wage the war against crime. And as I said on my statement to the Congress, I would hope that Congress would move fast. I think there's strong support now in Congress for this legislation.

Thank you all very much.

Q. Have you spoken to Chief Gates, sir? Have you spoken with Chief Gates since this incident?

The President. No -- --

Q. Do you think he should hang in or resign?

The President. I think that's a matter for Los Angeles. As many of you know, I feel that in many ways he has been an exemplary police chief. He's been out front on doing things for kids. I remember attending the D.A.R.E. program out there with him. I remember attending -- seeing ex post facto the wonderful job that the Los Angeles police did on buttoning up these crack houses. I'm familiar with the job the Los Angeles police are doing in fighting gangs.

But in terms of this case, certainly I think the man is entitled to his say. And it's a matter, the way I see it, for the local police department. The violation of Federal law by anybody, then that comes under the heading of our business.

Q. Mr. President, wouldn't you agree that a police chief sets the tone for his force and should be responsible for their actions?

The President. I have said all I have to say about it. And I've told you some good things he's done, and I think the man's entitled to a credible hearing here. That's the way it ought to be. And nobody's going to prejudge anybody here. What we're going to do is look into violations of the law and prosecute any of the people that have violated the Federal law and speak out against police brutality -- because what I saw made me sick. It was sickening to see the beating that was rendered, and there's no way, in my view, to explain that away. It was outrageous.

Q. Have you gotten a report on the New York case, Mr. President? And have you got any comment on that?

The President. I haven't had any report yet.

Note: The exchange took place at 1:35 p.m. in the Cabinet Room at the White House, during a meeting with Attorney General Dick Thornburgh. Marlin Fitzwater was Press Secretary to the President, and Daryl F. Gates was chief of the Los Angeles, CA, Police Department. A tape was not available for verification of the content of these remarks.

George Bush, Remarks on Police Brutality and an Exchange With Reporters Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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