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Police brutality on the upswing

Police brutality on the upswing, NAACP chief tells town meeting.


Herald Staff Writer

Speaking to a packed crowd at one of Miami's most prominent churches, NAACP President Kweisi Mfume said blacks must be on guard against the police brutality that has increased in the United States in recent years.

Mfume's remarks came at a Wednesday night town meeting that was part praise and part strategy session on the eve of a national board meeting of the nation's oldest civil rights organization. The meeting begins today and is expected to draw about 100 members from across the country. This marks the first time the NAACP has held a national board meeting in Miami.

"Police brutality and excessive force is a national crisis that requires the immediate action of President Clinton and U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno," Mfume said.

He called for action on the federal level and by every police department across the country. Mfume and other NAACP leaders also called for three directives to curb brutality and excessive force:

Withhold federal funds from police departments that have high numbers of excessive force incidents.

Called for Congress to fund the portions of the 1994 Crime Bill that mandates collection of police brutality data on a national level.

To establish police and civilian review boards with subpoena and investigative power.

Later this week, Mfume will deliver a quarterly report on the association's programs and activities. Among the key areas the NAACP has targeted are the problems of AIDS in the black community, declining support for public education and police brutality.

Mfume has participated in some of the daily demonstrations against the police shooting death of Amadou Diallo, a West African immigrant shot 19 times in February by four white New York police officers.

The town meeting at New Birth Baptist Church had been urged by the pastor, Victor T. Curry, and other local NAACP members. They had expressed similar concerns about police mistreatment and other matters.

Mfume's visit comes as many black Miamians are upset over the treatment of a Miami police officer who complained about how his son was treated during a traffic stop last week.

Officer Leon Leonard, a 10-year veteran, was handcuffed, squirted in the face with pepper spray and subsequently arrested for "becoming unruly" after he interrupted a police staff meeting at the Coconut Grove substation May 5. He later was "unarrested."

"There's so many grievances in this community, it looks like we're going backward," said the Rev. Willie Sims, longtime director of the county's Community Relations Board. "The Leonard incident is unfortunate."

Simms said there's an increased level of tension among blacks and Hispanics at every level of government, "federal, local, municipal and county."

Simms, who Tuesday participated with Curry in a call-in radio program on WMBM-AM, said workers called in with "horror stories."

"Some are valid, and some are just perceptions. But it has to be dealt with," Simms said. "You have to have a sense of hope and fairness among employees. Frustration is at its highest levels."

Conference activities will continue through Saturday at the Hyatt Regency, 400 SE Second Ave., when U.S. Rep. Carrie Meek will give a luncheon address. Today, there will be an NAACP birthday celebration marking "90 Years of Advocacy -- a Lifetime of Service."


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