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THE O.J. SIMPSON MURDER TRIAL : Black Leaders Urge Ito to Release Tapes

August 29, 1995|ANDREA FORD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a movement that is picking up steam, African American community leaders, clergy and a city councilman called Monday for federal and state investigations into the so-called Mark Fuhrman audiotapes and urged Judge Lance A. Ito to make the tapes public.

Only full disclosure of the tapes' content and involvement of outside agencies, they said, will calm a community "unsettled" by reports that Fuhrman, as a Los Angeles police officer, used racial slurs and boasted to a screenwriter about beating suspects and planting evidence. The screenwriter taped the conversations over a nine-year period.

Eight days ago, the Los Angeles branch of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People also called for independent investigations of the tapes, which have become a key issue in the O.J. Simpson double-murder trial.

But the group that assembled Monday in South-Central Los Angeles--including Geraldine Washington, acting president of the local NAACP branch; City Councilman Nate Holden; John Mack of the Urban League, and the Rev. Frank J. Higgins, president of the 400-church Baptist Ministers Conference--said the relevance of the tapes transcends that proceeding.

"I am very concerned how they impact on the lives of other people who have witnessed Mark Fuhrman," said Danny Bakewell of the Brotherhood Crusade.

Bakewell was approached, he said, at least 50 times at the annual Black Family Reunion last weekend by people he said were angry or fearful about implications in the tapes that racist officers may have unjustly imprisoned or even killed black people and Latinos.

"This community is a powder keg . . . capable of repeating the actions of 1992," Bakewell added, referring to the violence that erupted after four white Los Angeles police officers were found not guilty of beating Rodney G. King, who is black.

Mack agreed that the potential for trouble exists if residents feel there is an attempt to withhold all of what Fuhrman, who retired from the LAPD earlier this month, said on the tapes.

Community leaders, Mack said, plan to "be in the streets talking to people" to calm them. They also will press for independent investigations and even congressional hearings, Bakewell said.

Ito has to decide whether the tapes will be played to the Simpson jury in the defense's attempt to impeach Fuhrman's testimony that he had not used the word "nigger" in a decade and, as a detective in the case, had no reason to frame Simpson.

Ron Regwan, a lawyer who represents McKinny, said Ito has the authority to make the tapes public.

He and his partner have allowed representatives of the city attorney's office, the LAPD and the Police Commission, at their request, to listen to the tapes, read transcripts of them and take notes.

His office might be amenable, Regwan said, to a similar arrangement for representatives of the black community if McKinny agrees that there is a legitimate reason for it.

"So far, everyone who has contacted us has gotten access," he said. "They [the community leaders] haven't contacted us."

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