Harrisburg residents complain of police abuse, call for investigation
HARRISBURG- A determined group of city residents aired complaints of police brutality at tonight's City Council meeting and called on the council to launch an investigation into the behavior of Harrisburg's police force.
"We're not here picking on the police," said Loretta Barbee-Dare, head organizer for Harrisburg ACORN, who reminded council that ACORN came out in support of the police earlier in the year when some officers were laid off. "But there may be some who need additional training."
ACORN organized residents of the Allison Hill neighborhood to attend tonight's meeting after city activist Diane White was allegedly assaulted by a city police officer on September 1 as ACORN's annual Back to School Block Party was winding down. White alleges that she was punched, maced, kneed in the back, and had her arm twisted during the assault. Neighbors have claimed that approximately 20 city police officers arrived on the scene with dogs and forced people into their homes.
White alleges that the officer in question would not allow her to retrieve the city permit she had that allowed ACORN to block off a few streets for the party. Barbee-Dare noted that among the 20 officers who responded to the scene she saw one woman and no African-Americans or Latinos.
Barbee-Dare also questioned why one of the HPD's foot patrol supervisors has been unable to locate a report on the incident.
"I don't understand why Captain Ritter can't find it on the computer," she said.
Barbee-Dare said that it was a traumatic ending to an otherwise enjoyable day in which ACORN distributed school supplies, backpacks, and other goodies to school children from the neighborhood.
"There were a lot of kids having fun, feeling valued, feeling appreciated," said Kelly, a city resident who attended the party. "I'm concerned about their mental health after seeing that."
While another party in the city that weekend has received considerable media attention, tonight is the first time that the local press has covered the events at the ACORN block party. ACORN called a press conference on Monday, September 3, which was covered by one local television station that did not air the piece because they could not corroborate the story with city police.
Other residents told city council that this was not an isolated incident.
Greg Thompson, who is a member of the local ACORN chapter, said that he was attacked twice within two weeks by city police officers, once when he was assisting a hearing-impaired family member who was being questioned by police officers and once when he photographed officers late on a weekend night distributing parking tickets to cars parked near a bar downtown frequented by African-Americans. Thompson stated that he was maced during the second incident.
White claimed that such behavior by some HPD officers has been going on "for years" and blames the war on drugs.
"There is a system of racism that we're all victimized by," White said.
"The community is afraid of the police," said Wendi Taylor of the local NAACP branch, "and the police officer was afraid of (White)."
Nancy, a 58-year resident of the Allison Hill neighborhood, believes there are racial overtones in the police-community relationship.
"I'm white," she said. "I'm protected.
"Why aren't the black residents protected?"
Harrisburg ACORN is calling on City Council to conduct a full investigation into this incident and city police behavior generally.
Andy in Harrisburg