Police, civil rights leaders sit down to build bridges
June 8, 1999
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In a search for answers on how to improve relations between police and minorities, Attorney General Janet Reno on Wednesday will convene a gathering of law enforcement and civil rights leaders from across the country.
Reno will make the opening remarks at the Department of Justice Police Integrity Conference.
But it is words from other people that paved the way for this meeting.
Like Amanda Buritica's story.
To U.S. Customs Service inspectors, Buritica may have looked like a drug trafficker. They forced her to strip naked at San Francisco International Airport in 1994 and held her in custody for 24 hours.
"It was awful. It was terrible. I was so scared. I didn't know what they were going to do to me. I thought of rape. I thought of many things," said Buritica. "I was crying, I was shaking. I was so embarrassed. It was the most humiliating."
No drugs were found. And Buritica, who recently testified before Congress, believes she was singled out because she is Hispanic.
Customs officials deny that, saying Buritica was detained because she gave inconsistent answers in an interview.
Her story is but one of a string of racially tinged cases that have stoked tensions between some minorities and law enforcement agencies:
Are these symptoms of a pattern of police bias? Or isolated cases overblown by the media?
"If it bleeds it leads (the news), and if you get a case out there that's high profile, it's going to be in the media for a very, very long period of time," said Bob Scully, executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations.
Police leaders say relations with minority communities are by and large good. But civil rights leaders say police bias, including racial profiling, is common.
"It underscores the notion that we've rid Jim Crow of much of our society," said Hugh Price, CEO of the National Urban League. "But Jim Crow still lives in the criminal justice system, and we've got to root it out."
Justice Department officials hope that by sitting police and civil rights leaders down over the next two days they can find answers to a very divisive issue.
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