WASHINGTON -- Responding to charges that black elected officials are being harassed by the federal government, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus proposed yesterday the creation of a special institute or center to seek hard evidence of such cases.
Recently, Attorney General Richard L. Thornburgh was asked to create a special commission to investigate instances of inappropriate or overzealous government investigation and prosecution of black elected officials. But the attorney general said he first needed "evidence" of such instances.
Representative Mervyn M. Dymally, D-Calif., proposed the creation of a "formal institution," presumably private, that would be "charged with seeing that the right of African-Americans to be represented . . . will no longer be abridged by systematic harassment of black officials."
He made his proposal as chairman of a forum on the harassment issue that was part of the Black Caucus' annual "legislative weekend," a
series of of meetings on issues of concern to the national black community. The caucus consists of the 24 black members -- all Democrats -- of the House of Representatives.
During the session on harassment, aides to caucus members also reported that plans were under way for a formal congressional hearing on alleged harassment cases. Representative John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., chairman of the House Government Operations Committee, plans to hold a formal hearing on the harassment issue, but probably not until the new session of Congress next year.
Proposals also were made to develop a defense fund to aid black officials who are under government investigation or prosecution.
"There is a growing perception among African-Americans that black elected and public officials in America are being singled out for harassment," Mr. Dymally said. "It is a perception that must not be dismissed out of hand . . . that demands the most serious attention because it calls into question the ability of African-Americans to participate in the process of American self-government."
Mr. Dymally was instrumental in the creation 20 years ago of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, which is regarded as the nation's top research organization on black affairs.
There have been two studies of the harassment issue, both by Mary Sawyer, an Iowa State University professor.
Speaking at the forum, Ms. Sawyer said: "Certainly all officials should be held accountable; that is a given. But black elected officials should not be required to be perfect, and neither should black officials be held to a double standard of performance, either personally or professionally."
After yesterday's session, Ms. Sawyer said she believed harassment had become "more pronounced" since her second study in 1987 and seemed to be directed at the more outspoken, "change-oriented" black officials.