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An angry Milwaukee continues its march over police acquittals

Protesters demand US intervention in beating case

MILWAUKEE -- The acquittal of three white former police officers in the beating of a biracial man has angry Milwaukee residents likening the verdict to the historic injustices in the South and demanding federal prosecutors step in.

In the days since the verdicts late Friday from an all-white jury, black and white residents, including the mayor, have expressed their outrage by attending community meetings and marching through downtown Milwaukee. More protests are scheduled, and the topic still dominates local talk radio, newspaper headlines, and TV news broadcasts.

''People are sick and tired of injustice in Milwaukee," said Carey Jenkins of a group called Campaign Against Violence, who took part in a protest Tuesday. ''This is just the beginning."

The protests have been peaceful, in contrast to the riots that shook Los Angeles after the 1992 acquittals of four white officers in the videotaped beating of a black motorist.

On Friday, the jury returned not guilty verdicts on most charges against fired officers Jon Bartlett, 34, Daniel Masarik, 26, and Andrew Spengler, 26, in the beating of Frank Jude Jr. On one charge, against Bartlett, the jury reached no verdict, and prosecutors say they will retry him.

The beating took place in 2004 during a housewarming party at Spengler's house attended by a large number of off-duty officers.

Defense lawyers had argued that key witnesses were unreliable, because they did not remember correctly, lied, or were influenced by pretrial gossip and publicity. But District Attorney E. Michael McCann said a code of silence among police kept the truth from coming to light.

US Attorney Steven Biskupic said his office is looking into possible federal charges, such as obstruction or civil rights violations, but said the review could take months. In the Los Angeles case, two of the four officers acquitted of state charges were later convicted in a federal trial.

The Milwaukee protesters have also called for an independent investigation of the Police Department, overhauls to allow for more diverse juries, and legislation requiring the firing of any officer who witnesses another officer commit a crime and fails to report it.

''We don't need Milwaukee to become the new South," said the Rev. Louis Sibley III, president of the Milwaukee Innercity Congregations Allied for Hope.

Milwaukee is 37 percent black and has some of the nation's most segregated neighborhoods, according to census studies.

The march Tuesday drew 1,000 to 2,000 people, according to police; organizers put the number at more than 7,000.

''It's always one step forward and two steps back and a sidestep," civil rights activist Vel Phillips told the predominantly black crowd before the march. She was the first black and first woman Wisconsin secretary of state.

On Sunday, more than 500 people attended a community meeting with the district attorney, the mayor, and church leaders. About 60 people attended a town hall meeting Tuesday night with Police Chief Nan Hegerty.

Matt Nelson of the Milwaukee Police Accountability Coalition said the outrage over the verdicts is a predictable outcome of a failed system. No officer was found responsible for wrongdoing in more than 800 citizen complaints from 1999 to 2005, he said.

''Every level of accountability has failed," he said. ''It's really in crisis."

It was in a mostly white, working-class neighborhood where Jude arrived at the party with a black friend and two white women. Authorities said some partygoers accused them of stealing a badge, then punched and kicked Jude, removed his pants, and stuck a pen in his ears as they hurled racial slurs. No badge was found.

''I was just crying, asking, 'Please, please stop,'" Jude, 27, testified at the trial. He couldn't identify his assailants but said he heard Spengler threaten him. He was hospitalized and required reconstructive facial surgery.

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