Daryl F. Gates, the tough-talking former Los Angeles police chief pressured into retirement after the Rodney King beating, said last night that Baltimore police should stand courageous in the wake of recent shootings that killed one officer and critically wounded another.
"Someone said in the 15th century, 'In valor there is hope,' " Mr. Gates said during a speech to a northwest Baltimore boys club. "I just say to every police officer out there, things are going to get better."
In a speech and question-and-answer session with members of the Lancers Boys Club at Cross Country Elementary School, Mr. Gates said hopes for reducing violence in inner cities lie in teaching young people to resolve conflicts peacefully.
"One of things that needs to be taught right from the beginning, just as important as 'Just say no to narcotics,' is 'Just say no to violence,' " he told an audience of 250. "There are some people who have decided they don't want to live by the rules we have set as a civilized nation. It's just that simple."
Answering questions, Mr. Gates defended the jury's verdict in the Rodney King case, his department's handling of the ensuing riots, and even his own investigation into the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy.
Mr. Gates was once considered a mythical law enforcement figure whose innovative programs such as SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) and DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) were emulated nationwide.
But when his career ended, he was best known as the top cop in a department reeling from charges of brutality and racism, brought to a head by the videotaped beating of black motorist Rodney King by a group of white officers.
Mr. Gates was invited to speak in Baltimore by Robert I. H. Hammerman, chief judge of the Baltimore Circuit Court and adviser to the Lancers Boys Club since its formation 47 years ago.
The club, which is composed of high school-age boys from throughout the metropolitan area and counts Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke among its alumni, meets at least once every other week with an agenda that often includes a speech. Sports
legends such as Brooks Robinson, Johnny Unitas and Sugar Ray Leonard and political leaders such as Michael S. Dukakis and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun have addressed the club.
But Judge Hammerman said he has never been shy about arranging for controversial speakers for the boys. For example, former Lt. Col. Oliver North spoke there last year.
"We're not trying to advocate any particular ideology," the judge said. "We want the boys to be exposed to every point of view and let the marketplace decide, let the boys decide.
"We've had Black Panthers and the Ku Klux Klan. We've had Jerry Falwell and one of the Kennedys the next week, and the week after that it was [former Supreme Court] Justice [William J.] Brennan," the judge said. "The riots and the whole Rodney King episode are such seminal events in our country that riveted the country, to me they're hot news."
Chris Hagan, a 16-year-old club member from Randallstown, said he didn't buy Mr. Gates' defense of the Rodney King verdict, but he agreed that better values among the young might reduce crime.
"They're just not doing what they know is right," the teen-ager said.