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How. Scroll Soc. Just. L. Rev.


On March 30, 1959, the U.S. Supreme Court issued two decisions which set the stage for a new era in police-community relations. In Abbate v. United States. I and Bartkus v. Illinois,2 the Court gave the U.S. Justice Department the power to prosecute police officers under federal civil rights laws for acts of racist violence - even when they were already under state or local investigation - without fear of violating states' rights. These decisions - had they been enforced - would have been welcome news at the New York headquarters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). An organization dedicated to the eradication of lynching and other forms of extra-judicial violence against black persons, the NAACP lobbied the Justice Department ceaselessly since 1909 to combat the wave of murders and beatings committed both by police officers and private persons, particularly in the American South. Using a judicious mix of public appeals, lobbying, and litigation, this mainstream mass membership organization focused national attention on police abuse for half of a century.