For several years, the Anne Arundel County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has been trying -- unsuccessfully -- to be heard on cases it sees as police brutality.
"We've been saying for years, 'Look at the problems,' " says Jean Creek, president of the county chapter. "No one would believe us. They said we were exaggerating."
"If it hadn't been for Mr. [Rodney] King, no one would have believed it," she says. "If they hadn't seen it with their own eyes, no one in America would have believed what happened to King."
The county NAACP hopes it can use the highly publicized videotaped beating of King by Los Angeles police as a springboard to open communication with the county and Annapolis on alleged police abuses.
The beating also has led the Anne Arundel NAACP to file a report with U.S. Attorney General Richard Thornburgh asking that the Justice Department probe 25 cases of alleged police brutality over the past three years in the county. Thornburgh earlier said he would systematically reopen investigations of alleged police brutality across the country because of the uproar over the California incident.
Creek and about a dozen others, including a few county police, last week held a closed meeting to discuss problems some county residents have ascribed to the department.
In one case this month, Tony Lorick, a guard at the Maryland House of Correction in Jessup, alleged that police slammed him against a wall and dislocated his shoulder after they burst into his Odenton home in the middle of the night. The police were searching for Lorick's stepson for a crime they later determined he could have had no connection with.
Office V. Richard Molloy, a county police spokesman, says the department is looking into Lorick's complaint.
In another incident, less than a month ago, police officers arrested a young man coming out of a downtown Annapolis bar. Creek alleges that police kicked the man in the head and ribs after he was taken to a police station.
"It's very difficult to develop a case," Creek says. "We don't have a videotape, but we have a bruised head, bruised ribs and a hospital report."
One county case that garnered much attention was the October 1989 shooting by a policeman of Crystal Nelson, 26. The pregnant woman was fatally shot during a police raid at a home where she was watching several children. Her 9-month-old fetus did not survive.
Officer Thomas Tyzack Jr., who fired the shot, was cleared by the county and the U.S. attorney general's office. He remains on the force.
"We had filed a report with Thornburgh," Creek says. "He did a so-called investigation. But he never talked to us. He never talked to the people who filed the report.
"We're not saying all the police are bad," she says. "There are some good cops and there are some bad cops. We're depending on the good cops to help us weed out the bad cops."
Creek says a Police Community Relations Committee task force has been formed to help improve relations between residents and the police. Among the task force's goals is to encourage the hiring and promotion of more black officers in the county.
Creek says she wants to meet with County Executive Robert R. Neall to discuss any progress on that score.
"I'm told that the highest-ranking black officer is a lieutenant," Creek says. "Now that's a problem there."
Creek says she is encouraged by the hiring last week of a black deputy chief, Baltimore police Col. Joseph S. Johnson, for the Annapolis Police Department.