Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Founding of CIVIC

Clifford Clinton placed his hand on a Bible on Feb. 16, 1937, to swear an oath to root out public corruption as a member of the Los Angeles County grand jury.

Attorney A. Brigham Rose (left), Clifford, and Harry Ferguson
Photo: USC Special Collections
"It was a serious and rather awesome occasion and left me deeply impressed," he would later write in his memoirs. "When the citizens were represented by such a powerful body, serving each and every year, solely charged with protecting them from corruption and malfeasance in public office, why did so much exist?"

Gambling, payoffs on pinball and marble games, "one armed bandits," bookmaking, and prostitution may have been illegal, but these criminal activities went on unchecked in 1930s Los Angeles. Once seated on the 19-member grand jury, Clifford found three other members with a similar dedication to uncovering this illegal activity. This Minority Group included John Bogue, a Baptist minister; Harry L. Ferguson, a retired architect; and E.H. Kelly, a retired businessman.

In March, Clifford launched a private investigation with other Minority Group members. By the end of June, the group had accumulated a list of 1,800 bookies, 200 gambling spots, and 600 brothels. Bogue published names and addresses in a local newspaper. Clifford's many attempts to present this evidence to the grand jury as a whole were thwarted.

The Civic Betterment division of the Federation of Churches, a powerful women's group, were astounded and shocked by these revelations. Louise Blatherwick, the group's president, met with Los Angeles Mayor Frank Shaw to demand an explanation. Shaw denied the existence of protected vice and said the the Los Angeles Police Department was one of the best in the nation. He agreed to any fair and unbiased citizen organization who wanted to investigate vice in the city.

Los Angeles religious leaders met to discuss the formation of an investigating committee on July 19 at the German Methodist Church. They read aloud from Courtney Ryley Cooper's book "Here's to Crime," including the following passage:
"Look about your town, if there are slot machines, horse joints--if the numbers racket flourished--if there is concerted gambling in any form whatever--than someone in your city and county administration is crooked."
The group agreed to organize a committee that became known as CIVIC (Citizens Independent Vice Investigating Committee) on Aug. 19. Clifford's name was submitted as chairman of the committee.

On Aug. 3, Clifford and other committee members met with Mayor Shaw at City Hall that was also attended by LAPD Chief James Davis and Joe Shaw, the mayor's brother and chief of staff. The meeting got off to a rocky start, when Mayor Shaw pointed at the committee members and accused them of being "snoopers, busybodies, and self-seekers" who intended to smear his office.

Clifford responded by saying, "Mr. Mayor, this is beside the point. This committee pledges itself on two things. First, to act as a body not as individuals; second, we promise you if we find your statements to be true, we shall be your best supporters. We plan to deal in facts only, and if your administration's actions are as you claim, and if you wish to silence the critics, this is a certain and sure method."

Chief Davis had initially opposed the investigation, but following the meeting, he pinned Badge #4010 onto Clinton's lapel to deputize him as a private vice investigator. Chief Davis accused the committee of trying to launch a recall of Shaw.

Several days after the meeting, Shaw repudiated the group in the press, calling the committee a group of malcontents and snoopers whose only interest was to "besmirch the fair city of Los Angeles."

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