Black Caucus begins series of hearings on police racism, brutality; Witnesses say Clinton trying to 'out-Republican' the GOP on the issues


WASHINGTON -- President Clinton and federal lawmakers kowtow to political pressure and ignore the plight of Americans victimized by police racism and abuse of power, civil rights activists said in a hearing on Capitol Hill yesterday.

The comments came during the first in a series of Congressional Black Caucus hearings planned across the nation.

"This administration has tried to out-Republican the Republicans on criminal justice issues," said Laura Murphy, legislative director of the American Civil Liberties Union. "They're trying to prove they're tough on crime, and you don't prove that by getting tough on police departments."

Julie Goldberg, a White House spokeswoman, responded:

"President Clinton recently talked a great deal about steps he would take to build greater trust between citizens and police. This is a priority for his administration."

Asked later if Clinton's response to police abuse has been disappointing, Rep. Gregory W. Meeks of New York said: "That question answers itself. If the president had done all he could, we wouldn't be here today."

Among the more than two dozen witnesses at the 5 1/2-hour hearing were Bill Lann Lee, acting assistant attorney general for civil rights; an inspector from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and officials from the National Council of La Raza, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Several victims and family members told of gruesome beatings and killings by policemen: Herlema Owens of New York said she suffered a miscarriage after being dragged and thrown by police.

Dorothy Elliott of Prince George's County said her son, Archie Elliott III, 24, was handcuffed and shot 14 times by county police officers in 1995.

Police said Elliott pointed a gun at them while sitting in a police car with his arms handcuffed behind him. He refused to drop the gun and was shot 14 times, according to the police account.

Caucus members also released a new postcard-sized list of tips for those pulled over by police: To prevent abuse, it says, remain calm and do not touch officers.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the Baltimore Democrat, said crime-fighting in his neighborhood near North and Madison avenues reminds him daily of issues of police misconduct.

The hearing came amid other developments yesterday in high-profile police violence cases nationwide:

In a New York trial, Haitian immigrant Abner Louima detailed for jurors the beating he allegedly suffered at the hands of police in 1997. And, in Riverside, Calif., about 600 demonstrators rallied against a recent ruling that police will not be charged with killing a 19-year-old in her broken-down car in December.

The shooting death in February of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed Guinean immigrant in New York, sparked an outcry among civil rights leaders and a string of protests in New York City that pushed city officials to indict the police officers, who are white.

"All of Africa is looking at the United States to see if there will be justice when an African is killed in this way," said Saiko Diallo, the victim's father, who spoke at yesterday's hearing.

Pub Date: 5/11/99

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