- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 12, 2009

The NAACP is renewing a push for federal standards on police use of force after the shooting of an unarmed black man by two white police officers inside a church while day care children watched.

Witnesses say the man was surrendering, but officials in Rockford, Ill., near Chicago dispute that version of events, saying Mark Anthony Barmore grabbed for an officer’s gun after they cornered him in the church.

Both sides do agree, however, that Mr. Barmore fled when officers approached him in the church parking lot.

The incident highlights the suspicion and fear that can poison relationships between police and minority communities across the country.

“There are no national standards for the use of force (or) training for use of force,” Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said Friday.

The issue “is not primarily about racism,” Mr. Jealous said, citing the recent case of a 72-year-old white woman tasered by a white Texas officer during a traffic stop. “We want to make sure the standards are the most modern and appropriate ones possible.”

The NAACP scheduled a rally Saturday in Rockford and a march on Oct. 3. Mr. Jealous was planning to attend both; it would be his first march since taking the NAACP’s helm a year ago.

Jim Pasco, executive director of the national Fraternal Order of Police, disputed the notion that police are inadequately trained in the use of force, which he called “the most serious and awesome responsibility a police officer has.” He said the majority of the public has faith in the police and that the proposed law would be “oppressive to police officers.”

In the case in Rockford, a city of 155,000, police received a complaint that Mr. Barmore, 23, had been in a domestic disturbance with his live-in girlfriend. Mr. Barmore had been released from jail recently and had a series of arrests, including charges of assaulting a police officer with a firearm.

On the morning of Aug. 24, Mr. Barmore went to the Kingdom Authorities Ministries church, which he sometimes attended, to seek counseling about the problem, said the pastor, Rev. Melvin Brown.

According to Mr. Brown, Mr. Barmore spoke with the pastor’s wife and 17-year-old daughter in the church driveway. Two officers drove by, spotted Mr. Barmore, and approached with their guns drawn. Mr. Barmore ran inside the church, which also operates a day care center for children ages 4 and up.

Mr. Barmore was cornered inside a boiler room, Mr. Brown said, as the pastor’s wife, daughter and several of the young children watched.

Witnesses said Mr. Barmore emerged with his hands up but was shot several times in the chest and back; the officers said Mr. Barmore fought them and tried to grab one of their guns, according to Police Chief Chet Epperson.

“My daughter was about 5 feet away. When he hit the ground, she sees the cops shooting him in the back. We saw slugs in his back when we went to see the body,” said Mr. Brown, the pastor.

City officials would not comment Friday on the shooting, citing an ongoing investigation by state police and the Cook County state attorney’s office - a rare case of outside agency intervention.

The NAACP was calling for a full Justice Department investigation instead of currently assigned mediators, who were sent to calm racial tensions.

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