Bradley Insists His Reaction to Verdicts Didn’t Fuel Riots


Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley on Thursday strongly defended his handling of the crisis that swept the city after the not-guilty verdicts in the beating of Rodney G. King.

The mayor denied that his unusually blunt denunciation of the trial’s outcome, broadcast live, had played any role in provoking the riots. In an interview with The Times, he said had taken steps to prevent the disturbances before they broke out, but acknowledged being stunned by the breadth of the rioting.

Bradley also said he had been assured by top police officials that the Los Angeles Police Department had a response plan if trouble erupted on the streets. He said his own troubled relationship with Chief Daryl F. Gates--the two had not spoken for more than a year--did not contribute to breakdowns in police response at the onset of rioting.


But he said that if Gates had resigned earlier--as Bradley and others had urged--it would have eased tensions in the city and improved morale in the Police Department, which could have led to a prompter response to the riots. “I’m not suggesting that the new chief (Willie L. Williams) could have worked miracles or prevented the outbreak of rage and violence after the decision came in.”

But if Williams had been running the department, the mayor said, it would have increased “our chances of . . . a prompt, organized and effective response which would have minimized the chances that it would have gotten out of hand.”

The mayor also defended his choice of Orange County entrepreneur Peter Ueberroth to lead the city’s rebuilding efforts, expressed deep personal sorrow about the looting and arson that ravaged the city, and said he had no second thoughts about anything he might have done during his 19 years as mayor that could have forestalled the recent riots.

Bradley reiterated his outrage over the verdicts, saying there was “no way” the jury could justify what was on the videotape of King’s beating. He said his initial response was appropriate for the city’s top official and was a reflection of his “true feelings of anger and disbelief.”

Just two hours after the verdicts were announced April 29, Bradley went on live television to criticize the Simi Valley jury that, he said, had “asked us to accept the senseless and brutal beating of a helpless man.”

He continued: “The jury’s verdict will never outlive the images of the savage beating seared forever into our minds and souls. . . . I understand full well that we must give voice to our great frustration. I know that we must express our profound outrage. But we must do so in ways that bring honor to ourselves and our communities.”

After chastising the jury at length, Bradley tempered his remarks with entreaties to listeners not to engage in “senseless acts born of anger.”

Bradley said Thursday: “I cannot understand how anyone could hear that entire speech and say I was responsible” for the outbreak of violence.

The mayor said that he started preparing for possible trouble three weeks before the King jury started deliberations. He said he met several times with black community leaders, including the Rev. Cecil Murray of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church, Urban League President John Mack, Brotherhood Crusade President Danny Bakewell, local President Joseph Duff of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, and City Council members Mark Ridley-Thomas and Rita Walters.

He said the group had agreed that a convocation would be held after the verdicts at the First AME Church, the largest church in the black community. The purpose, he said, was to give people an opportunity to vent their anger in a constructive way and to urge others against engaging in any violence if the verdicts were unfavorable. He said that an informal telephone networking plan was set up to help generate the largest crowd possible.

“We had no expectation that we could stop all looting, all arson, all violence, but we did our best,” the mayor said.

On another front, Bradley said that although he was not on speaking terms with Gates before the riots, he had consulted with LAPD Deputy Chiefs Bernard Parks and Matthew Hunt about the department’s plans in case trouble broke out after the verdicts. “They assured me that . . . they had made plans, briefed their officers. I was satisfied they had a plan and would be able to respond. . . . I thought we were as well prepared as could be,” the mayor said.

“As it turned out, some of the plans they had told me about didn’t have all the specifics, all the logistics for how they would get their troops” to trouble spots. “I don’t know where that breakdown occurred. . . . I think that when this incident grew so quickly and grew so widely that it created a situation where it got beyond the control of the Police Department. That’s why I made the call to Gov. (Pete) Wilson to call out the National Guard, and very quickly thereafter he and I decided to call for federal troops.”

Police response to the outbreak of violence is the subject of a special Police Commission investigation headed by former CIA Director William Webster.

In an interview in his City Hall office, the mayor said he felt “deep sorrow” about the looting and violence that had swept the city, but expressed confidence in the rebuilding initiatives that have been launched. He said he was pleased by President Bush’s pledge of $1.2 billion in aid, but said that it would not be enough.

He said he could understand the doubts expressed about his choice of Ueberroth, the white Newport Beach entrepreneur who ran the 1984 Summer Olympics, to spearhead the rebuilding efforts. But, he added, “I believe him when he says that there is going to be full participation by the minority communities.”

He said that he had never given any thought of having one or more co-chairs who were minorities. “As to having several people, that won’t work. The business community has got to know the individual and trust him if they’re going to make the kind of major commitments that are required” for the rebuilding program to work.

Bradley described his own depression as he toured riot-stricken areas of the city in recent days.

He said the looting and vandalism had been indiscriminate, and seemed particularly outraged by the attacks on the offices of the Watts Labor Community Action Committee, an organization that has built low-cost housing and provided social services for poor residents of South Los Angeles. Those who attacked the center “have given up on our society and on themselves. What does it matter to them who they insult, who they kill, what they destroy?”

But Bradley expressed no second thoughts about actions he took, or failed to take, during his years as mayor.

“I don’t think you can dare second-guess yourself,” he said. “I go to bed each night confident that I’ve done the best I can. I don’t believe in looking back.”

The mayor expressed considerable enthusiasm when he heard that Charter Amendment F--the police reform measure on the June 2 ballot--was leading by a substantial margin in a recently completed Los Angeles Times Poll. He said the changes were needed because under the current City Charter “the chief is accountable to no one. The chief is out of control.”

The mayor said he did not know whether he will run for another term and brushed aside findings in the same poll showing that his approval rating among Los Angeles residents had dropped to 38%.