WASHINGTON, D.C. —
COLOR OF LAW
Many federal civil rights cases involve police or other authorities abusing their power under "the color of law." Unlike in hate crime cases, prosecutors don't have to prove that these civil rights violations were motivated by racism or other bias.
Still, the best-known convictions came in racially charged cases:
• Rodney King led law officers on a high-speed chase in March 1991 and, once stopped, was slow to obey their commands. Police reacted by kicking King, clubbing him with their batons and shocking him with stun guns, causing 11 skull fractures. A witness' video of white policemen pummeling a black man as he lay on the ground played over and over on national television. Four Los Angeles officers were charged with assault; a jury with no black members acquitted them. The verdicts sparked rioting that set Los Angeles aflame and cost 55 lives, prompting King's famous plea "Can we all get along?" The Justice Department charged the officers with civil rights violations. After a second trial, two were convicted and sentenced to 30 months in prison. Two were acquitted.
• In the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, police gunned down 17-year-old James Brissette and 40-year-old Ronald Madison, who were unarmed, and wounded four others as they tried to cross the Danzinger Bridge to what they hoped was safety. Police officers planted a gun, fabricated witnesses and falsified reports to cover up the Sept. 4, 2005, shootings. A Louisiana district judge threw out murder and attempted murder charges against seven officers after ruling that secret grand jury testimony had been wrongly used against them. The Justice Department moved in with a civil rights investigation and won prison terms ranging from 38 to 65 years for four officers involved in the shooting; other officers were sentenced in the cover-up.