Six weeks after the controversial police shooting of an African
immigrant here, the incident is expanding from a local police-
brutality case into a nationwide civil rights protest.
It is raising some of the largest concerns about police powers
since the beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles officers in 1991.
While the controversy hasn't spawned the social unrest of the
beating, it is drawing national civil rights figures to New York to
protest police conduct toward minorities - and galvanizing local
activists who haven't marched since the 1960s.
"The reason the Diallo incident has sparked such a response is
that it is not just an isolated tragedy, but a symptom of a broader
problem," says David Cole, a professor at Georgetown University Law
School in Washington. The incident involves four white New York
police officers who killed black immigrant Amadou Diallo in a
of 41 bullets as he stood in the doorway of his apartment building.
The shooting has refocused attention on the way police treat
racial minorities on several fronts. Many minority youths complain
that they are routinely frisked as they walk down streets.
A number of states appear to have used racial profiles in
determining what motorists to pull over. Last weekend, President
Clinton acknowledged police problems in his weekly radio address and
earmarked more money for police training and community relations.
At the same time, the Justice Department now confirms it is
investigating police departments in New York, New Orleans, Los
Angeles, and state troopers in New Jersey for patterns of civil-
rights abuses. A spokeswoman says the caseload has increased from a
"handful" of cases to "several."
Many African-Americans aren't waiting for the results. Take the
Rev. Bertha Wright. The last time the pastor felt handcuffs on her
wrists was during the civil-rights marches of the 1960s. Now she is
joining protesters outside New York's One Police Plaza - and fully
expects to get arrested.
"We want justice," says Ms. Wright, who leads the St. James
African Methodist Episcopal church in Harlem.
Wright is part of a daily lunch-hour picket line outside police
headquarters. Initially, the marches were composed of local
activists, lead by the Rev. Al Sharpton, a controversial figure.
But the efforts have now started to attract more mainline
politicians. This week, Rep. Charles Rangel (D) of New York and
former Mayor David Dinkins were put in cuffs. Yesterday, Kweisi
Mfume, head of the national NAACP, joined the protests.
Their complaints are reaching some ears. On Wednesday, New York
Attorney General Eliot Spitzer announced he would begin a civil
rights investigation into improper police searches of individuals
He says he will collect data, interview officials, and talk to
people who have been stopped. During his fall campaign, he says, it
was a recurring theme of African-American citizens.
The civil rights investigations come in the wake of a prolonged
crack down on crime that has been spearheaded by the nation's
They have built up street crime units that drive around in unmarked
cars looking for potential criminals.
They have built war rooms and use sophisticated computer programs
to look for crime patterns. And they have added thousands of new
police officers. These efforts have contributed to a dramatic
reduction in the nation's crime rate - including in minority