As critics of Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl F. Gates began a campaign Saturday to remove him from office, activists gathered across town to launch their own effort to throw out the Police Commission and replace it with an independent review board.
Both efforts emanated from the continuing controversy over the beating by police of black motorist Rodney G. King, with community groups vowing to use the ballot to change the way the city oversees its Police Department.
At Parker Center, where hundreds have come together weekly to demand Gates' ouster, unsuccessful City Council candidate Kerman Maddox gathered signatures for petitions aimed at putting a proposal to recall Gates on the ballot.
"Many people are starting to join this effort because it seems to be the only legitimate instrument with which to remove him," said Maddox, who is one of five people spearheading the effort. "You don't have to rely on the mayor. You don't have to rely on the City Council or the Police Commission. The public will determine whether or not this is placed on the ballot."
The City Charter allows the police chief to be recalled, although the position is not an elective office.
The recall organizers got their official go-ahead last Thursday when the city clerk approved their petition, Maddox said. He said they have until Aug. 9 to gather the signatures of 63,000 registered voters to qualify the recall measure for the ballot.
Once the signatures are certified, Maddox said, the City Council must call a special election within 60 to 90 days.
As signature gatherers for the recall campaign fanned out throughout the city, about 80 people gathered at Martin Luther King Jr. Park in southwest Los Angeles where activists unveiled a petition they hope will lead to the creation of a citizens' police review board.
Copies of the review board proposal were distributed among a placard-carrying, multiracial crowd that milled about the park and listened to stories of police brutality from those who said they had been victims and from rap artists who talked about it in their lyrics.
"We don't think it's enough to have the Police Commission act as a rubber stamp for the LAPD," said Michael Zinzun of the Coalition for Justice and a Civilian Review Board. "We want the power to monitor police abuse to be put in the hands of a citizens' review board."
The 15-member commission would consist of an elected representative from each Los Angeles council district and would take over many of the duties now carried out by the Police Commission, Zinzun said.
Zinzun said the coalition's goal is to gather enough signatures to qualify a proposal for the ballot that would change the City Charter to allow such a board to assume the powers of the Police Commission.
The signature-gathering campaign has not begun, said Zinzun, who added that organizers want more input from the community.
Zinzun made an unsuccessful attempt to form a citizens' review board in the wake of the 1979 fatal shooting by police of Eulia Love--an incident that, like the beating of King, has become a symbol of what many see as a pattern of police brutality in the black community.
Zinzun also is a plaintiff in a lawsuit against Gates and Asst. Police Chief Robert Vernon.