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...