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Villaraigosa offers muted response to Gates' death

April 16, 2010 |  3:57 pm

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a former president of the Southern California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, offered a muted response Friday to the death of former Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl F. Gates.

“Chief Gates committed his life to the Los Angeles Police Department and to the city of Los Angeles. We all mourn his death, and my condolences to him, to his family and to the officers of the Los Angeles Police Department who mourn his loss," the mayor said at a noon news conference, called to announce his endorsement of San Francisco Dist. Atty. Kamala Harris for state attorney general.

In a written statement released later in the day, the mayor also noted that Gates would be remembered for creating the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program for teaching children about the dangers of drugs and for helping “pave the way" for department reforms.

In March 1992, while serving as vice president of the ACLU of Southern California, Villaraigosa criticized a City Council proposal that would have delayed moving Gates out of the job, even though the procedural maneuver would have allowed two Latino candidates to be considered.

The Daily News reported that, while he supported the consideration of a diverse field of candidates, Villaraigosa at the time said it was “criminal to use that fact to propose a motion that in effect would slow down the process of change in this city, that would slow down the process of accountability in this city, that would slow down the process of getting Chief Gates out."

The ACLU’s current executive director, Ramona Ripston, was more direct Friday.

"Daryl Gates failed to react to a changing Los Angeles and a changing culture in policing. At a time of great unrest in our city, he was a lightning rod for criticism and controversy, and deservedly so, in part because of his penchant for making disturbing, overly broad statements," Ripston said. “He inherited a Police Department with little respect for minority communities or for civil liberties and civil rights, and he continued that legacy throughout his career."

City Councilman Bernard C. Parks, a former LAPD chief who rose through the ranks under Gates’ command, said Gates always had Angelenos “interests at heart."

He said Gates had the difficult task of cleaning up past corruption in the department and addressing a spike in murders fed by the crack epidemic and street gangs.

“It is a sad day that we have lost chief Gates," Parks said.

-- Phil Willon at Los Angeles City Hall