Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl F. Gates refused to back away Friday from his suggestion that casual drug users be shot to death, telling hundreds of LAPD officers and supporters at a noon luncheon, “Yeah, I mean it!”
The chief’s pronouncement on recreational drug use has drawn mild to harsh criticism from city officials. Some said they have grown used to such “Gates-isms"--deliberately outrageous statements made to shock the public and draw attention to an issue.
Mayor Tom Bradley said Friday of Gates’ remarks about casual drug users: “I’m not going to dignify that statement by a response.”
Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky had more to say about Gates. “He must have been smoking some pretty bad stuff,” he said. “He ought to explain himself. . . . I think for the chief of police of any American city to make such a suggestion is outrageous and ridiculous.”
Despite the growing controversy, Gates appears entrenched in the job he has held for more than 12 years, and city leaders expressed little desire to rein him in. Most said they did not take Gates’ remarks literally.
But Gates, in his first public appearance since he told a Senate committee earlier this week that casual drug users “ought to be taken out and shot,” said Friday he stood by his controversial proposal if it would end drug abuse in this country.
Asked if he had any regrets about his testimony in Washington on Wednesday, the police chief said: “Absolutely not. Are you kidding?”
“That’s one of our problems in America,” he added. “We don’t speak the truth. We’re so frightened of opening our mouths in this country. Every politician in the nation is afraid to come out and say anything in strong terms.
“Well, I’m not afraid. I said it. I’m glad I said it.”
Gates’ own son, Lowell Gates, has a history of drug problems and a criminal record dating back a dozen years, including a 1988 conviction for being under the influence of cocaine.
“He is an addict,” Chief Gates said. “He’s not a casual user. He was a casual user, and that’s what leads to addiction. And I think everybody ought to recognize that all the poor addicts shot themselves already. They don’t need us to execute them.
“He’s an addict,” the chief said. “He shot himself.”
But Gates was particularly critical of casual users, describing them as traitors and hypocrites for allowing drug abuse to continue in this country.
“I simply am trying to call that to our attention,” he said. “There are people dying all over this country, and we’ve still got people who just want to party. I think they’re hypocrites. I think if we want to prosecute a war on drugs, we’ve got to get serious about our disdain for those who continue to sustain this war and aid the enemy.
“And that’s what all the casual drug users do. I want casual drug users to recognize exactly how treasonous I think their acts are. All they are doing is contributing to sustaining the war effort. They’re aiding and abetting the enemy. They’re supporting the enemy. They’re giving money to the enemy.”
However, Gates conceded that his proposal to shoot weekend drug users would never fly. “That’s not going to happen,” he said. “Everyone knows that. But it sure got their attention, didn’t it?”
He also blasted the press, especially The Times, for its reporting on his comments about casual drug users. He said the newspaper mentioned only his comments about marijuana smokers, although he also suggested in his testimony that cocaine users be executed as well.
“It’s typical of the Los Angeles Times,” he said. “They don’t even tell the truth. All you mentioned was pot.”
Gates made his comments to reporters as he arrived at a luncheon for Los Angeles police officers being awarded the department’s Medal of Valor. He opened his formal speech by saying, “Would all the casual drug users please rise?” a remark that drew long and sharp laughter from the hundreds of officers and Police Department supporters at the Bonaventure Hotel.
Gates has aroused controversy with his statements almost since the beginning of his tenure as police chief. In 1980, he suggested that his SWAT team could rescue the American hostages in Iran, prompting an unappreciative communique from the State Department.
Later, during a closed dinner meeting of deputy district attorneys, he described a local television newscaster as “an Aryan broad.” He publicly apologized after the word got out, saying he meant the description “in jest.”
In 1982, he upset the black community when The Times quoted him on the use of the carotid chokehold. “We may be finding,” Gates said, “that in some blacks when a (carotid restraint) is applied, the veins or arteries do not open up as fast as they do on normal people.” He later conceded that it was a poor choice of words.
While council members Friday criticized Gates for his most recent statement, none said they would call for his resignation and most said they believe he is a good police chief.
Councilman Richard Alatorre, chairman of the council committee that oversees the Police Department, said he takes Gates’ statements with a grain of salt.
“Obviously, it’s in the typical style of Daryl Gates. . . . It’s kind of Gates-ism. He shocks people into reality,” he said.
Gates’ strength with council members apparently is founded in his longtime attention to the complaints and needs of their council districts.
“He’s been very responsive whenever I’ve had problems with officers in my area,” said Councilwoman Gloria Molina. Councilman Robert Farrell said he was “shocked” by Gates’ recent statement, but added that Gates is “a very good administrator. . . . He’s responsive to me.”