During an unusual half-hour on Los Angeles' airwaves Wednesday, one of the officers facing federal civil rights charges in the beating of Rodney G. King squared off with rap-music star Sir Mix-A-Lot.
The verbal sparring match on KABC's "Ken and Barkley Company" radio show occurred when the rap star joined an in-progress interview with suspended Los Angeles Police Officer Laurence M. Powell.
Powell, scheduled to be tried early next year with three other officers in the Lake View Terrace beating, proclaimed his innocence to the radio audience and said he was setting the record straight about media misinformation.
The Seattle-based Sir Mix-A-Lot, on his way to the MTV awards show where he is up for best rap video, appeared mostly to promote his latest recording, and rap music in general. He admitted that he is not an expert on law enforcement policy or on the King incident.
Nevertheless, the two agreed on little.
About the riots, sparked by the not-guilty verdicts in the officers' Simi Valley trial, Powell said: "I'm not going to get into whether it was a revolution. This was nothing but a bunch of criminals burning down the buildings in their own neighborhoods."
Sir Mix-A-Lot, whose real name is Anthony Ray, had another opinion: "The majority of people that initially took to the streets were not criminals. It was frustration. . . . I think they should have gone right to Beverly Hills."
The rap performer said he did not condone the violence, particularly the beating of truck driver Reginald Denny at one of the flash points of the unrest.
"I think what they did to the truck driver was insane," he said. "But I thought what happened to Rodney King was insane."
Powell talked about his fear during the encounter with King. Sir Mix-A-Lot, who admits to owning a home arsenal and opposing gun control because it would leave weapons in the hands of criminals \o7 and \f7 cops, talked about the fear of police among young blacks.
"The thing we fear most is the police--understand?" he said to Powell. "It's almost like you see a strong black man . . . you had to beat him down."
Aside from such exchanges, Powell's appearance with hosts Ken Minyard and Roger Barkley appeared to be part of a recent strategy among King-case defendants to take their views to the public. Officer Theodore J. Briseno recently granted a wide range of interviews, and a book by Sgt. Stacey C. Koon is scheduled for publication next month.
"I think it's important to tell my side of the story," Powell said. "I am not adding to the publicity. This case is going to get publicity whether I speak or not."
Powell said he believes the beating that King received was within the LAPD's use-of-force policy. "We are taught to use our batons in that manner, and that's what we did that night," he said.
Reiterating a defense theme in the earlier trial, Powell said the beating was sparked by King's bizarre behavior and his refusal to cooperate.
"What we did was in reaction to what Rodney King did," Powell said. "He was in control out there. . . . I never hit him when he wasn't resisting."
In answer to a caller's question, Powell said he, Briseno and former Officer Timothy E. Wind were forced to hit King more than 50 times because they were forbidden by departmental policy from using a chokehold to subdue suspects.
A chokehold would have ended the King encounter in seconds, Powell said, to which Sir Mix-A-Lot interjected: "With a chokehold, I think he'd be dead."
Powell said the King-case defendants have been made scapegoats for the ills of the nation's police departments.
"I agree there are people out there who have had bad experiences with police," he said. "But it's not my case. But it has polluted my case."
After Powell left the studio, Sir Mix-A-Lot stayed with the subject.
"A guy like that is so out of touch with the streets, it's pitiful," he said of Powell.