Former U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese last night accused public officials who criticized the verdict in the Rodney King police brutality case of pouring "gas on the flames" rather than trying to ease tensions that led to rioting in Los Angeles two weeks ago.
Mr. Meese said that the criticisms created "an atmosphere that appeared to justify the type of disorders that took place [in Los Angeles] and elsewhere in the United States."
"It [the rioting] should not have happened," he said in a speech before the National Troopers Coalition,which is meeting at the BWI-Holiday Inn in Linthicum. "It could have been prevented if public officials had taken a more mature approach. Responsible public officials should have used everything at their disposal to calm the situation rather than pour gas on the flames."
Mr. Meese also said that had local government in Los Angeles been better prepared, the situation "would not have gotten out of hand."
Although he said he was not trying to defend the jury's verdict in the Rodney King case, which led to rioting in Los Angeles that resulted in more than 55 deaths and caused close to $1 billion in damage, he said that the verdict was "not unusual as cases go."
Defendants have been acquitted when a defense attorney was able to establish reasonable doubt, Mr. Meese said.
He said that public officials and the public should not have con
demned the verdict when they only saw 81 seconds of the video of the beating of Mr. King and did not hear the testimony that the jury heard.
Mr. Meese told the 400 troopers attending the three-day conference that began yesterday that while police misconduct or brutality cannot be condoned, it is "very important not to distort the facts or allow others who would use the situation in a cynical manner in the aftermath."
He noted that the late Black Panther Party leader Huey Newton "never paid any penalty" for the murder of an Oakland, Calif., police officer.
"So, this is not a unique situation," he added.
Mr. Meese also criticized a Superior Court judge in Washington who allowed a jury hearing testimony in a police misconduct case to attend a demonstration on the Rodney King verdict. The jury later handed down a $1.5 million judgment against the officers, he said.