City residents recount personal stories of police brutality at Baltimore hearing

Church meeting is latest in series across nation

June 07, 1999|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

At a hearing on police brutality in West Baltimore yesterday, Martin Luther King III vowed to continue collecting victim testimony until Congress takes action to end such abuse.

The meeting at Union Baptist Church, in the 1200 block of Druid Hill Ave., was the seventh in a string of national hearings. The first was held in Atlanta on April 4, the 31st anniversary of the assassination of King's father, civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

"Our purpose here is to hear the victims. Our object is to stamp out police brutality and misconduct," said King, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the organization that is sponsoring the national hearings.

"We are going to lay this out to Congress," he said. "We are going to get Congress to act and respond and set a standard of conduct for police officers."

Democratic state Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV, who helped organize the hearing, said Baltimore was selected because "we have a long history of police brutality cases. Like many other cities, we need to focus on solutions."

Hearings are planned for other cities, including Lansing, Mich., and Birmingham, Ala.

Yesterday's hearing focused on three issues: police brutality across the country, the creation of a civilian review board in Baltimore and alleged discrimination in the city Police Department.

Also attending the event were members of the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus; U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat; Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke; and other community leaders.

They heard several people tell stories of brutality suffered at the hands of police officers.

Eric Easton, 41, spoke of being verbally abused by a patrolman after he was stopped for allegedly running a red light on Edmondson Avenue.

Northwest Baltimore resident Willie Ray said an officer threatened to shoot him in the head. The officer was responding to a call from Ray's son-in-law, who told police that Ray had threatened him with a gun.

After hearing the testimony, Cummings told the nearly 200 people gathered at the church that he would make ending police brutality a priority and thanked the witnesses for sharing their experiences.

"By hearing this, we can be more effective in effecting change and fully realize how significant this problem is," Cummings said.

Reports of excessive police force -- including the fatal 1997 shooting of James Quarles III outside Lexington Market by a uniformed officer -- prompted several state legislators to support the creation of a civilian review board in Baltimore, Mitchell said. The board will be established by Oct. 1.

Prominent civil rights leaders -- including the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People President Kweisi Mfume and the Rev. Al Sharpton, a New York City activist -- are calling for the creation of civilian review boards in other cities and asking that federal dollars be withheld from police departments with a history of brutality.

In April, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno announced a new Justice Department effort to gather data on incidents of police brutality. She also urged tougher responses to police misconduct, but stopped short of endorsing civilian review boards.

Reno's call for action followed growing protests over police treatment of minorities.

Pub Date: 6/07/99

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