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Police vs. Blacks in Nebraska.

On November 10, thirty helmeted police officers and four paddy wagons descended on a group of black high-school students in downtown Omaha. Twenty-six young people, ranging in age from fourteen to eighteen, were subjected to a mass arrest, charged with jaywalking and obstructing traffic, handcuffed, and taken to the police station where they were fingerprinted and photographed before being released.

Merchants had complained for years to police and city officials that students at Omaha's largely black Central High were raising havoc after school in the city's business district. Merchants said students were frightening shoppers, tapping on windows, soliciting handouts, harassing people, and holding up traffic.

But members of Omaha's African-American community were outraged by the mass arrest. "This was really overboard," says Lou Arterberry, an African-American Omahan who has been following the case. "Something needed to be done about the kids downtown, but the police used excessive force, and it got a number of people upset." Video footage from police surveillance cameras which later appeared on the evening news silowed officers pushing kids up against a wall and handcuffing them. (Normally. police officers issue citations to jaywalkers.)

City councilwoman Brenda Council, one of the city's few African-American elected officials. told reporters her office was deluged with complaints from parents whose children were arrested in the sweep. Council described the police action as "heavy-handed" and said relations between police and black residents of the Midwestern city were "set back light-years."

The mayor's office also reported a flood of outraged phone calls following the incident. Mayor P.J. Morgan called the police action "excessive," and met with leaders of Omaha's African-American community for two hours in a closed-door session.

Police Sergeant William Muldoon, who led the mass arrest, defended the action at first, saying that police were merely responding to merchant requests, and "race was not a factor." But a few days later, the city prosecutor dropped charges against all of the students. Omaha's black leadership, residents, students, school officials, and representatives of the police force met at Central High to discuss the incident, and have formed a committee to work on improving chronically strained relations between the police and the African-American community.

Omaha's chief of police has now described the arrest as "poorly planned and ill-conceived," and said it was not in line with police plans to move away from strict enforcement and toward "community-based policing."

"I think the parents getting involved - both in dealing with the police, and in talking to their kids - has been really positive. That's what needed to happen," says Arterberry.
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Title Annotation:mass arrests of high school youths in Omaha
Author:Williams, Eric
Publication:The Progressive
Date:Jan 1, 1994
Previous Article:Crime on the Hill.
Next Article:Crimes of Punishment.

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