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Bush Deplores Mob Brutality, Orders Justice Inquiry

By Jack Nelson
Los Angeles Times


President Bush, stunned by the Los Angeles racial violence and concerned that it will spread to other cities, Thursday expressed frustration at the acquittals of four Los Angeles police officers in the beating of Rodney King but denounced the riots as "purely criminal" and called for the re-establishment of law and order.

At the same time, he directed the Department of Justice to step up an investigation to determine whether to prosecute the policemen in federal court for violating King's civil rights.

The president, in telephone calls to Mayor Tom Bradley and California Gov. Pete Wilson, also offered federal aid to help repair the riot damage, though White House officials said that Bradley and Wilson told Bush it was too early to know what assistance would be needed.

Describing the violence, fires and looting in Los Angeles as "mob brutality" and "wanton destruction," Bush said, "We simply cannot condone violence as a way of changing the system." He spoke to a group of broadcasters and later attended a $1,000-a-plate fund-raiser for his re-election campaign in Columbus, Ohio, after a trip from Washington that was postponed for several hours because of the developments in Los Angeles.

Bush, under intense pressure to involve the federal government in addressing the Los Angeles situation and the nation's broader racial problems, appeared to be at a loss about how to proceed. He spent part of Thursday morning consulting advisers.

Later, aides announced that he was scheduling a White House meeting for Friday with black community and government leaders to discuss a course of federal action.

Although Bush conceivably could dispatch federal troops to Los Angeles to help control rioting and prevent looting, White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater said that "at this point there has been no consideration" of such a move.

Meanwhile, Arthur Fletcher, chairman of the U.S. Commissions on Civil Rights, underscored the urgency of the racial situation not only in Los Angeles but in other parts of the country, saying that Commission files are filled with reports warning that other cities also are "tinder boxes" that could explode into violence.

The reports have been filed by the commission's state advisory committees, Fletcher disclosed in an interview. Fletcher, a black who will attend Friday's meeting with Bush, said that the Los Angeles riots sprang from "a cancer of racism that's been eating away at the nation's moral fiber and infiltrating and infecting practically every major institution in government, education, health -- and the judicial system, the cornerstone of our democracy."

Fears that the violence could spread were also voiced by many members of Congress and civil rights leaders who expressed outrage at the outcome of the trial and demanded that the Department of Justice prosecute policemen involved in the King case for civil rights violations.

Several lawmakers said that they will organize congressional hearings to examine the possibility of expanding the Civil Rights Act to address questions of police brutality more specifically.

Rep. Don Edwards (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on civil rights, planned hearings on police brutality for next week, and Senate Judiciary Committee member Arlen Specter (R-Pa), said that the Civil Rights Act should be amended to incorporate specific statutes against police brutality.

Congressional Black Caucus members said that they will discuss the King case next week with Willie Williams, the newly appointed Los Angeles police chief.

"America witnessed a terrible travesty of justice," said Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), chairman of the caucus. He called the jury verdict "a manifestation of prejudice and racism in their most virulent form."

Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson and Rep. Maxine Waters, (D-Calif.), both urged Attorney General William P. Barr to move quickly to bring federal charges against the policemen implicated in the King beating.

After meeting with Barr, Waters, whose district includes the area of the worst rioting, said, "We let them know that we think the situation not only in Los Angeles but across the nation is extremely volatile and we want them to make the decision with all due haste."

Jackson, declaring that justice must be done to protect the credibility of the judicial process, accused Bush of failing to exercise leadership and said his "kinship" with Police Chief Darryl Gates "throughout all of this shows his disregard for justice and fairness."

Jackson and other civil rights leaders also criticized Bush for reacting too slowly to the developments in Los Angeles and refusing to meet with Jackson Wednesday night after violence broke out. The president was attending a state dinner at the time and a White House spokesman told Jackson that Bush would have to talk with him later.

The White House said Thursday night that black leaders invited to Friday's meeting with Bush include Benjamin Hooks, executive director of the NAACP; Dorothy Height of the National Council of Negro Women; John Jacob, head of the National Urban League; Joseph Lowery, head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; Rev. E.V. Hill, pastor of a Watts church in Los Angeles; and Coretta Scott King, widow of civil rights leader Martin Luther King.

Fletcher and another black official in the administration, Connie Newman, also will attend.

Attorney General Barr, stressing the seriousness with which the Department of Justice is conducting the civil rights investigation in the King case, held a press conference Thursday flanked by FBI Director William S. Sessions and John R. Dunne, assistant attorney general for civil rights.

"It's important for people to understand that the verdicts yesterday on state charges are not the end of the process," Barr said. "The Department of Justice is responsible for enforcing the civil rights laws of the United States, and it will do so vigorously."

The Department of Justice could seek indictments against not only the four officers acquitted Wednesday but 17 others who stood by and did nothing while King was being beaten, according to a key federal law enforcement official.

Meanwhile, sources said the federal government, clearly caught by surprise when the riots broke out, lacked adequate intelligence about the Los Angeles situation because of the Reagan administration's gutting of the Civil Rights Commission and its downgrading of the Department of Justice's Community Relations Service.

Fletcher said he met with Mayor Bradley about the Los Angeles racial situation after the King beating but that the Reagan administration had so "decimated" the commission that there were not enough resources to develop adequate intelligence about the situation.

Other sources said the Community Relations Service, which the Reagan administration also downgraded, has been ineffective in monitoring the nation's racial problems.

Ron Tomalis, a spokesman, said the service was "assessing the situation" in Los Angeles.

"We are looking at other cities and assessing situations as they occur," he said. "We were in Los Angeles during the trial and we have been meeting with local officials, community groups, civic groups."