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Amadou Diallo: Some Observations by Another African Immigrant

The embattled communities are operating in an environment of relative isolation from one another, and there is a considerable distance between whites, blacks, Latinos, and others in this city that preclude the realization that we share a common humanity, and that it is in the interest of all of us to struggle against the usurpation of our power by powerful groups in domestic politics and to resist policies that are harmful to our individual and collective well-being. We should also support policies that work to our advantage. One step in this direction is that the Diallo case appears to have galvanized many to look beyond the politics of color and attempt to build coalitions that demand accountability from our public officials.

By Mojubaolu Olufunke Okome

As an African immigrant to the United States, and the mother of two boys, I am still in shock over the assassination style-killing of Amadou Diallo, a 22-year old young man from Guinea. Amadou was, we are reminded at every turn, "a street peddler." Everyone who reads newspapers and or listens to the radio, and watches TV also knows that Amadou was also shot at by four police officers of the New York Police Department in a hail of 41 bullets. In the wake of the protests that his murder generated, one of the first responses by the Mayor of the city of New York is that we ought to have hollow or "dum-dum" bullets. From what I gather, if these bullets had been used, it would not have been necessary to shoot at this young man 41 times.

Many commentators from all sides of the political spectrum have discussed this tragedy. Many have expressed their opinions by letting their feet do the talking; they have demonstrated a belief in civil disobedience as a means to achieving social and political justice. What remains to be said, besides the fact that all people of good conscience ought to join the demonstrations that show the Guiliani administration that this is not a matter of black and white, that it is a matter that concerns us all? What can I contribute to throwing light on this issue and the phenomenon of police brutality? In the following paper, I will consider the commonalities between my life experiences and Amadou Diallo's. To do so effectively, I will consider some of the news reportage on this issue and make comments on my thoughts as I read them. Clearly, more comprehensive analysis is needed. A search on Lexis Nexis turned up more than 500 articles in the print media. I am only able to comment on a few at this time. Thus, this is a work in progress. The purpose of the paper is to generate discussion and debate on issues of pluralism, and beyond that, issues of citizenship and what it means to be a human being.

Both Amadou and I are West Africans. However, while he is a Francophone African, I am Anglophone. This linguistic difference arises from our common experience as Africans of colonialism. Amadou's country was colonized by the French, and mine, by the British. To be educated in each of our countries is to become fluent in the language of the colonizer. Both Amadou and I are immigrants to the United States. The implication of coming from different countries is that we belong to different social networks. He only came to the United States recently, I came 18 years ago. I am now an American citizen. I became a citizen only after my country of origin, Nigeria changed its laws to allow for dual citizenship. According to the Immigration and Naturalization Service's classification, he was an illegal alien. I came to this country to further my education, and had a student visa. He also came in quest for further education, and worked as a street peddler to accumulate enough money to pay for his education. I decided to stay in the US because the opportunities for employment in Nigeria had dried up. He came because opportunities in Guinea are either drastically reduced or non-existent.

Both Amadou and I are black. As black people in the United States, we have walked into a situation where historically, whether you like it or not, the color of your skin determines your identity. Many recent African immigrants to this country eventually come to realize that the first thing that the external observer sees about you is the color of your skin. Like it or not, that color marks you, and makes you subject to treatment that other people may never experience. We, to all intents and purposes, by coming to America, have come into the stream of American history that continues to perpetuate inequities against African Americans, simply by virtue of their color. While Amadou died, I am here now. As an African who may have faced police harassment, but who was not shot at, I have a responsibility to consider what is happening carefully, analytically. If I do not look into this tragic matter, I will be doing myself and others an injustice. First, I will recount a traumatising personal experience with the New York Police Department (NYPD). I will then recount experiences of my husband, and also consider some news reports on the Diallo matter.

On Thursday, April 15, 1999, there was a peaceful demonstration. According to USA Today, Police estimated the crowd at 3,000 people, but others at the scene estimated the turnout was twice that number. The Reverend Jesse Jackson contended that this demonstration is part of the civil rights movement. "There is power in innocent blood," said Jackson. "[Diallo's] blood has allowed sons and daughters of liberation to blossom." Reverend Al Sharpton who has been subjected to much press scrutiny for grandstanding and for plotting a vendetta against Mayor Guiliani and the police commissioner, Howard Safir, stated: "If you have a defective car, you don't change the driver, you fix the car," Sharpton, who also led a series of daily civil disobedience protests outside Police Headquarters also remarked that. "We want to make it clear this is not about Safir." Several prominent people, have participated in the protests. They include singer Harry Belafonte, actor Ossie Davis, and activist Dick Gregory. As reported by the Daily News, "This goes past politics," said Yasmine Hurston, 27, an aide to Manhattan Borough President Virginia Fields, "It's about human life and the love we have for it." The police commissioner commented that "We're working with the organization to make sure the march is peaceful."

My first and most remarkable experience of harassment by the members of the New York Police Department, NYPD came a few years ago. I was so highly traumatized by this experience that I almost packed up my bags to return home to a place where I am a valued member of society. This is not to say that Nigeria has no problems. Its problems are numerous. It is to say that no one considers me a problem just because I am black. My sons are not potential victims to a police force that engages in racial profiling. My experience, in brief, is as follows: I took a livery taxi cab from downtown Brooklyn about twelve years ago. I was in the company of my three year old son and a friend from Nigeria. My friend and I were dressed in African clothing, and while in the cab spoke Yoruba. Upon entering the cab, I was asked to pre-pay the cost of the ride. This was unusual, but since I was extremely tired, I did pay, against my best judgement.

I told the driver where I was going. I asked him if he needed directions. He said he did not. I went to the extra trouble of letting him know exactly where I was going, and he assured me that there was no problem. When I noticed that we were going in a direction that did not appear to be the right one, I let the taxi driver know. Again, I was assured that he knew what he was doing. I relaxed. We got to a place that was totally unrecognizable to me, about 40 or more blocks from my house and the taxi driver asked me to identify my house, so he could drop me off and be about his business. This was not my neighborhood, which I told the driver. He insisted that I had to get out of the car. I demanded my money back and got it. However, the driver insisted that I could not leave.

Since I was not interested in spending the entire evening in a strange neighborhood, I called the cops. To my amazement, once the police officers came, they totally ignored me and consulted with the white cab driver. He told them his story, and I was ordered to pay up or else. I refused. Immediately, I was threatened with arrest if I did not comply. I was told that I was a dirty, filthy, starving African who ought to return to Ethiopia. I was also cursed in such an abominable manner as I had never before, and have never since experienced by these two policemen. I was asked for my identification card, and when I asked why, I was again threatened with arrest. My son began to cry. He wanted to know "Mommy, are we the bad guys?" I reassured him that we were not. In the process of taking down the officers' names and numbers, they got even more abusive and threatening.

As luck would have it, a friend drove past. She stopped and took me away from the street corner. The first thing she told me was that I was out of line. You don't talk back to the police. You could have been shot, and nothing would come of it, because their word is the only one that's taken into consideration. I was livid. I went to the precinct to report these obnoxious cops, thinking that they would be reprimanded. I got to the precinct by approximately 7 p.m. and my report was not fully processed until midnight. Mind you, the precinct was not busy. My friends, my son, and my friend's son sat on the stoop on this hot, humid evening to wait for me. While they were still waiting, the cops returned to the precinct, saw them on the stoop and cursed them out. The policemen went upstairs and threw water on them.

When my report was typed, and I was told to sign "here," indicating the spot with the X mark, I insisted on reading it. The officer was disgusted about this irrelevant need of mine, and told me so. I read the report and made corrections. For this I was made to wait even longer. After leaving the station house, I lodged a complaint with the Civilian Review Board. For the next month or so, my friend who rescued me and I got harassing calls, with heavy breathing, and the person at the other end hanging up. The Review Board did not respond until months later, when I was told that since I did not suffer bodily injury, I was not harmed in any way. In addition, I was told that I could not prove what happened. Several people who saw how much the situation affected me persuaded me to drop the matter and try to recover from its ill effects. I still regret that I did not follow up the matter today. I still feel angry about it. However, I am alive. I can do something about the issue of police brutality.

Unlike me, Amadou experienced police brutality that was carried to its logical conclusion: Death to a law abiding human being who was living his life as best as he knew how, and striving to survive, thrive, and create his own success. He was cut down prematurely, in the prime of his life. If I am shocked and baffled, I think sometimes of what his mother must feel. I admire his parents for taking the positions that they have thus far. I commend Reverend Al Sharpton for stepping forward and providing leadership in this matter. Some Sharpton quotes: As the Diallo family's adviser and spokesman, Sharpton, told the gathering "We march to say to these United States that we must deal with police misconduct and police brutality once and for all."

I lament the profound lack of organization among recent African immigrants to the United States, particularly since I know that among us, there are many who are up to the task. To contextualize the phenomenon of police brutality, I will consider the following issues in the next four sections: Racial Profiling; Imminent Threat; Is it Just a Matter of Where You Sit Determining Where You Stand? The End Justifies the Means? Each heading has been culled from issues discussed in reports of the news in the popular media. For each analysis, I give a full quotation of the news report. I also draw heavily on selected articles that are identified in the text in further analyzing the issues that are raised. First, I turn to the question of racial profiling. It is one that generates deep emotions and reactions in people and communities that have been targeted. That this is not just a matter of a few isolated individuals complaining about minor infringements on their civil liberties is clearly indicated by the raising of similar issues in many states, the holding of hearings on the matter, and the US Attorney General office's decision to make inquiries into allegations of racial profiling.

Racial Profiling

I have deep concerns about the establishment of a police state, a veritable condition of siege in this city. Let's examine the issue of the special task force of the NYPD taking back the night. As I see it, the problem is much deeper than the swaggering around of a special task force that owns the night. It is also that the rest of the police force own the day. If you are a black man in NYC, you are likely to be harassed. This is not some figment of my imagination. It is a product of a shared experience by many black people in this city. Thus, I am not surprised that street crime arrests are up. What surprises me is that none of our fine investigative journalists who have had their "noses to the ground" have sniffed out the cause.

The level of harassment in communities of color has increased exponentially and if journalists only care to comb the communities where people are profiled by reason of their color, they will find out that many people are being subjected to stops on varying pretexts. The most common reason given for stopping a car is that the brake lights are broken. The offending individual is then given a ticket, and told to report to any precinct of their choice after fixing the problem. The problem is usually nonexistent. Today, April 16, 1999, my husband was stopped for the third time in one month. The difference between today's stop and the previous two was that he was treated with the newfangled "courtesy" by the two reps of "New York's Finest" who stopped him. My husband's example was paralleled by that of Cliff Redding, a copy editor for the Daily News in an editorial.

Consider Redding's Words Carefully

"I WORK nights. In a city that never sleeps, I shouldn't have a problem carving out a life. I should be able to stop off for a bite or a drink after my shift without the likelihood of being questioned, frisked, maimed or even killed by members of New York's Finest because I, like Amadou Diallo, "fit the profile." Now that four of New York's Finest were indicted last week for Diallo's murder, I'm hoping it's the end of open season on men of color."

That Redding wants us to know that he works and has the words capitalized is a response to one persistent stereotype, the assumption that those who are stopped by the police are the shiftless, the jobless, the potential threats to society who are clearly and easily identifiable. But most black males know through their day to day life experiences that they "fit the profile" because they are black. This makes them feel that there is an "open season on all men of color," a statement reiterated by Jesse Jackson in a piece to be quoted later. I am aware of the politics of opportunism, of the possibility that stereotypes can be used in a way that manipulates our sentiments to push us to jump on someone's bandwagon without necessarily understanding or even benefitting from the situation. Politicians who have been painted with the broad brush of opportunism have included Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. However, an "opportunist" can also make us aware of commonly shared problems and raise public awareness. It is up to us to decide how to participate in solving the problem identified.

According to Redding in the highlighted text, the ramifications of being profiled can be felt in a lot of ways in people's day-to-day lives and such profiling does not even have to be done by the police to be hurtful or to restrict our ability to "live the good life" or fully realize "the American dream." Consider Redding's discussion of some of the progressive changes that have occurred and some limitations that remain:

"It's not so bad when passengerless taxis pass me by. I've gotten used to that. Or when whites prefer to stand instead of taking the empty seat next to me on a bus or in a subway car. I've gotten used to that, too. Or when "security" follows me around. I've even gotten used to that. When you're a person of color in America, you get used to many things that don't make sense. Besides, it's not like I have to drink out of a public water fountain marked "colored" the way many of my relatives had to, or ride in the back of a bus or not be allowed to vote. But I can never get used to the "open season" mentality of the men in blue who claim to "own the night," and to protect it from the men in black, who happen to be brown or beige.

There are distinct differences between fitting the profile and not having access to taxis and fitting the profile as applied by the police and facing the consequences. One of the things that may happen, we know already is that a person may be stopped and questioned or even searched for reasons of "reasonable suspicion," which by most accounts, one learns, is something that is developed as a result of training and experience. Something that you know through "gut feeling". Redding continues:

"Diallo fit the profile. Kenneth Boss, Sean Carroll, Edward McMellon and Richard Murphy fired 41 shots at him in February, hitting the unarmed man 19 times, killing him in the vestibule of his Bronx building. Abner Louima fit the profile. Justin Volpe, Charles Schwarz, Thomas Wiese and Thomas Bruder stand accused of beating him and violating his rectum with a wooden stick in 1997. Anthony Baez fit the profile. Francis Livoti choked him to death in 1994, after a football glanced off Livoti's squad car. Keshon Moore, Danny Reyes, Leroy Grant and Rayshawn Brown fit the profile. John Hogan and James Kenna fired 11 shots into the college students' van after they stopped the vehicle for speeding on the New Jersey Turnpike last April. It's always been open season on men of color."

Like it or not, profiling does in some cases, result in egregious harm to a black man or youth. One question we may need to ask is: Is this necessary? Another question is: How many times does a person get stopped before they are right when they feel angry and victimized. A third question is: Is it even justifiable that people are being stopped in the manner that is observed?

Examining what Redding says next may help throw some light on the questions just raised:

"I was stopped seven times over the course of several weeks by city cops in my own neighborhood, the upper East Side, while they were looking for a serial rapist in 1997. I looked nothing like any of the descriptions of the individual who has since been linked to 18 sexual attacks, but that didn't stop the cops from stopping me. The four cops indicted in Diallo's death said they were looking for a rapist, too. Apparently, a manhunt legitimizes cops stopping black and Latino men and roughing us up. Pin the tale on the brother."

Many stops cannot even be justified at all, except if we want to say blatantly that if you are black, you are criminal. Some themes also get played and replayed so often that those who experience the effect of manhunts time and again come to disbelieve the necessity of these measures. The measures taken by the police seem fabricated in order to harass and frame black and Latino men. Looking for a rapist is a perennially theme that seems like a pretext for denying an entire group of people of their civil rights.

In a Daily News story that follows (April 6, 1999), there is the following excerpt:

"Meanwhile, Safir also said he had discussed with Deputy Mayor Rudy Washington a report that the black official was ordered out of his car by cops while driving home from a dinner in Queens. Washington's wife reportedly was reduced to tears during the incident. "I spoke to [Washington] today and our conversations are private," Safir said. Washington has declined to publicly discuss the incident."

The moral of the story is: As a black person, you do not have to skulk around to be profiled.

As Redding tells us:

"Each time I was stopped, the cops were confrontational. Come here! Where are you going? Show me some ID! Forget CPR, the Police Department's Courtesy, Professionalism and Respect program. Who's to say I won't be stopped by a cop with an attitude and an itchy trigger finger? Even if I keep my cool, bite my tongue, I could easily end up a statistic, another dead victim of a peace officer who thought his life was in danger."

I must confess that from the anecdotal information that I have, CPR is in place now. Police officers carry around "courtesy cards" from which they read when they stop people. I know because my husband was stopped on Friday, April 16, and was given a liberal dose of the new courtesy policy. His story appears below under the section on "imminent threat". However, courtesy cards don't prevent the cops being confrontational, and their use does not prevent the person stopped from thinking that they could become "another dead victim of a peace officer who thought his life was in danger."

Let us also look closely at the following story. The mayor wants all law abiding citizens to know that nothing can prevent the men in blue, "New York's Finest," from saving our streets from criminal elements who are hellbent on creating a condition that puts our quality of life in jeopardy. Thus, the Diallo case may have caused all kinds of over-reactions on the part of naive bleeding hearts who are being used in a hysterical campaign that is no more than a personal attack on him. The street crime unit refuses to be distracted from carrying out their assignments to the best of their abilities. We ought not to expect any less from such finely trained people. We ought to thank our stars that they are out there. We can sleep the better in the night. Of course, unfortunate accidents happen. We must not reach rash conclusions but base our conclusions on hard facts. This story tells us what we ought to look at if we want to make informed decisions. The story once again is from the Daily News.

From a story that ran in the Daily News on Tuesday, April 6, I will briefly analyze the Mayor's statements. As reported in the article:

"Mayor Giuliani yesterday said there has been a recent "improvement" in arrest activity by the street crime unit. The unit's arrests dropped 67% after four of its cops shot and killed Amadou Diallo Feb. 4, sparking months of protests and unrelenting scrutiny of the unit's aggressive tactics. The four cops were indicted last week on murder charges. Giuliani said yesterday that there had been improvement in the unit's arrest numbers in the prior four or five days. "The street crime unit is back again being somewhat more engaged than they were before," Giuliani said. He would not provide additional details."

For Mayor Giuliani to be so focused on the "improvement" in arrest activity by the street crime unit is not only insensitive, but also indicates the lack of awareness of the cost that is being exacted in order to realize these "improvements." It also lends credence to the contentions of the critics who accuse the mayor of not caring about the minority population in this city.

At the same time, attempts are being made to influence our thinking about the cost of letting criminal elements run wild through the city. The article goes on:

"Police officials have suggested that the murder rate and shootings are up because street crime cops are hesitant to make arrests. Ten days ago, Police Commissioner Howard Safir ordered members of the unit to work in uniform. Later yesterday, Safir offered a different assessment from Giuliani's when asked about the unit's numbers. "It's too soon to tell," he said. "But at the end of the week I'll have a briefing and then I'll have more to say about it."

If we consider that the article says also that:

"Criminal-justice experts have expressed doubt that the Diallo shooting could have such an immediate impact on murders and shootings. The NYPD has logged eight more murders this year compared with the same period in 1998. Sunday was a particularly bloody day, with five killings logged in Brooklyn alone."

It is clear that at best, we can analyze this information in two ways: either we begin to think that the restrictions placed on the special unit as a result of the Diallo case had an immediate contagion effect of causing an escalation in violence, and luckily, the resumption in the level of engagement by the street crime unit has now led to more arrests and in consequence, we should expect the crime rate to fall. Or, we can question the rationale of linking the increase in murders and shootings to the Diallo factor, but as non criminal justice experts, when faced with the statement that "The NYPD has logged eight more murders this year compared with the same period in 1998. Sunday was a particularly bloody day, with five killings logged in Brooklyn alone." it gives one pause, and we wonder if the assumptions of the police officials in the previous paragraph are not accurate after all. When in doubt, let us remember this: "I still feel the pain," said Diallo's mother, Kadiadou." As a mother, that statement resonates with me much more than the mayor's and police commissioner's "common sense" and "expert" analysis. It makes absolutely no sense for these harassments and deaths to be acceptable costs under any circumstances.

Imminent Threat

I've also become skeptical about the claims that there is a method to the madness of the NYC police department, that proactive action toward the "imminent threat" posed by criminal elements in the minority populations is what generates harsh police action. Again, I will put this in perspective from my own experience. My husband was warned, again on Friday, April 16, about being a potential threat to the police because he was stopped by some of our vigilant men in blue who are working round the clock, relentlessly running down all potential or actual threats to the well-being of law abiding citizens.

While driving in East New York, this black man, who just happened to be a doctor of Physical Therapy, noticed that a police car that was traveling in the opposite direction saw him, and immediately turned around, and followed him. He stopped at a red light. The police car stopped right behind him. As he proceeded through the intersection when the light changed, he heard the blaring public address system from the police car, "pull over." He did. A policeman emerged from the car and was polite. He was greeted. He was asked if he knew why he was stopped. When he said that he did not, the cop explained carefully and politely that his brake light was not working. Being a very polite man himself, he explained as carefully to the cop, who after all, was only discharging his lawfully constituted duties, that he was stopped only a couple of weeks or so ago for this same problem. He was given a ticket, and told to go to any precinct of his choice to have his car checked. He did, and was given a clearance. He was sure that his brake light could not possibly be broken. The cop listened. He asked for my husband's license and registration. He told the policeman that he had to reach in his pocket for his wallet. He was given permission. He gave the cop the documents.

As the policeman and his partner sat in their car, probably checking him out on their suspect list, and then, writing a ticket, he got out of the car to stretch his legs. He had his arms on the car, and his head on his arms. All of a sudden, he heard the blare again. "Get back in your car so that you are not a threat to yourself, and you are not perceived as a threat." He immediately complied. Two cops came out of their car; one was a female cop. She approached his car, ticket in hand. The male cop stood a distance away, one hand on a hip, the other on his gun. My husband chuckled to himself. He was given the ticket. He was also instructed to go to any precinct of his choice and report himself ready for clearance.

When my husband got to his patient's house, the woman, a grandmother, who also happened to be black, told him that the same thing happened to her, and to her husband two days later. Their brake light was not broken. However, they had to go to the precinct twice. I also know three other people to whom this happened. Each one is a professional. Two are intellectuals who teach in the best of our universities. They are all law-abiding citizens. One is a recent African immigrant. Two are African-American. Two are women, one is a man. For those who want us to be glad that there's reduced crime, I say to you, are you willing to endure these costs?

To those who accuse the marchers against police brutality of publicity seeking, grandstanding, vendetta, etc, I say, if this kind of harassment happens to you on a regular basis, would you feel so magnanimous? Each and everyone of us should be treated as valuable members of the community until we prove to be unworthy. If tests on our integrity are necessary, all of us should be tested, black and white, equally. After we've all been subjected to the same tests, and we are still comfortable with being stopped, with spending time in police precincts when we are supposed to be working or spending time with our families, or pursuing "the American dream," and we are okay with it, we should speak up and declare our support for these police state actions that are applied just to the minority sections of our population. For African immigrants, the time to become vocal and to organize against these abuses is now. I am glad for one thing. My husband is now radicalized. He wants to write letters to his elected representatives. He wants to write to the mayor. He will even march in protests against police brutality.

Is it Just A Matter of Where You Sit Determining Where You Stand?

The case on racial profiling, police brutality, and the attendant issues is not so cut and dried. The highlighted text below is an excerpt from the article that follows. It shows that there are at least two sides to this issue. The first is expressed by Casilda Roper Simpson, attorney for the family of the Patrick Bailey, shot dead in October 1977, the other by the Brooklyn District Attorney and the third by Kenneth Boss' attorney. It was alleged that Kenneth Boss shot Mr. Bailey to death.

"We didn't expect an indictment from Mr. Hynes' office," said attorney Casilda Roper Simpson. "He didn't want to do anything." But Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, whose office interviewed 21 witnesses, including Boss and three other officers, said there is "no credible view of the evidence which would support criminal charges against the police." "It was reasonable for the police officers to believe that Mr. Bailey posed an imminent threat," he said. Steven Brounstein, Boss' attorney, called Hynes' findings "a just and fair result. . . . My client acted justifiably and reasonably. He saved someone's life that day."

This report indicates a few crucial points. The first is that the ownership of public space can be privatized. Some are entitled to occupy those spaces and others are not. In some public spaces, there is an overwhelming number of "troublemakers," a preponderance of potential or actual law-breakers, people who could jeopardize public safety. One of the things to look at when the police are accused in cases in which lives are lost is whether they acted properly, thus: "Investigators found that Kenneth Boss, 27, then a member of the 75th Precinct's anti-crime unit, acted properly in the October 1997 shooting of Patrick Bailey, 22, in East New York." When most people who live in NYC read this story, they read that the event occurred in East New York, an area that has become notorious as a hotbed of crime. It then seems plausible that a young man in that kind of environment has been socialized by the conditions of his existence. He may have fallen in with the wrong company and become a threat to the community.

But then, "Bailey's friends and family have questioned whether he was carrying the shotgun which turned out to be broken at the moment of the shooting. A family lawyer said his wounds indicate he was shot from behind." Why would Bailey's friends and family have these questions? Most who follow media reports of events in NYC also know that there is a lot of distrust expressed toward the NYPD and city authorities by people in communities such as East New York.

"But Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, whose office interviewed 21 witnesses, including Boss and three other officers, said there is "no credible view of the evidence which would support criminal charges against the police." Indicates that the officials who are so distrusted also have their own perspective in this matter. As we see from the Brooklyn DA's statement, evidence is weighed, credibility is carefully considered, and then a decision is made on the merits. Such a decision, seen from the DA's perspective, is unbiased, especially when we consider Mr. Hynes' statement that: "It was reasonable for the police officers to believe that Mr. Bailey posed an imminent threat."

We also see the perspective of the attorney of the defendant expressed. Thus, "Steven Brounstein, Boss' attorney, called Hynes' findings "a just and fair result. . . . My client acted justifiably and reasonably. He saved someone's life that day."" From what we read here, this is a matter of justice, fairness, justifiable and reasonable action. Things that can be measured, evaluated, and weighed. However, these are not unambiguous concepts, and therein lies the problem.

Why then did we read: "In the Diallo case, Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson has said the refusal of Boss and three other officers to provide details odf (sic) the shooting played a role in the decision to seek a murder indictment." When we go on to read: "In the Brooklyn case, however, Boss spoke with investigators and "cooperated fully," Hynes said."

We are told in this new piece that this is because:

"Boss' attorney believes the highly charged atmosphere surrounding the Diallo shooting made the difference. "The political pressure on the grand jury in the Bronx basically eliminated our ability to get a fair hearing," Brounstein said."

This is where the title for this section is drawn. Is this just a matter of where you sit determining where you stand? This definitely appears to be the case, since:

"An attorney for the Bailey family, which has filed a $ 155 million civil rights lawsuit alleging Bailey was allowed to bleed to death, said Hynes' office only tried to close the case after Boss became involved in the Diallo shooting. "We didn't expect an indictment from Mr. Hynes' office," said attorney Casilda Roper Simpson. "He didn't want to do anything.""

But,

"In a 13-page report released yesterday, Hynes' office said three civilian witnesses disputed the police account, saying Bailey was not holding the shotgun when he was shot. But those witnesses were deemed unreliable because of inconsistencies in their statements. In all, 17 civilians were interviewed."

What do we expect as reasonable people, when the witnesses who disputed the police account are unreliable purely because of the inconsistencies in their statement. Let us consider that a total of 17 people were interviewed.

The story goes on:

While on patrol at 11:35 p.m., Boss responded to a report that Bailey had threatened another man, Adell Smith, with a shotgun. According to the report, Boss pursued Bailey into a building and fired three times, hitting him twice, once in the right thigh and once in the right buttock, as Bailey turned toward him with a 26-inch-long, pump-action shotgun."

It is clear from this report that Boss was carrying out his duties as appointed by the law. All he did was respond to a report that another man was being threatened by Mr. Bailey. Bailey, it is also alleged in this report, pointed a shotgun at Boss. This is why Boss' attorney contends that a man's life was saved.

I want us to consider here what makes the Diallo matter a political one and not the Bailey case. If we question the extent to which Boss could be given a fair trail, we also ought to consider whether Bailey's family got a fair hearing. We should consider if justice was served. Most thinking people would probably respond that we do not know all the facts of the matter. To the extent that this is our response, we also ought to know that in most press and media reports, we do not know all the facts, yet, we draw conclusions because some things seem clear to us just through the application of common sense. What we also need to consider is what constitutes common sense and how we come by it.

The End Justifies the Means?

First, let's consider this excerpt from the Daily News. Taken as a reportage of the facts, it is scary that we do not think seriously about the problems that arise from the "law and order" emphasis of the Guiliani administration and its implications for many in minority communities such as the South Bronx and East New York. It is astounding that the conclusion that some reach is that the end justifies the means, that if we want a safer city, we should be ready to pay the price, we should not grumble when we who live in areas where people commit the most crimes, maybe even probably against us, are stopped by the police in the course of their constitutionally delineated duties. It could not be only due to racial profiling that we are stopped, it is only because it is the common-sense thing to do. Consider the story reported in Appendix 4.

Conclusion

There are several things that must be done. In terms of the practical measures to be taken, this city needs an Independent Civilian Complaints Review Board. This is not a revolutionary discovery or assertion. It has been recommended before. Similarly, many have suggested sensitivity training for the police, and I have participated in making a training videotape for this purpose, but this matter needs much more than sensitivity. It needs something more profound. I am convinced that the matter needs more because I am especially concerned by some of the news coverage that has been done on the case.

When we are confronted with issues such as are raised in these reports, the questions that ought to arise in our mind are: What is the law, Who determines the law, Who has capacity to act? Who applies the law? These are not questions that we can answer intelligently if we do not consider these as issues of power. In a political system, those who have power determine the right answers to all these questions. In the American political system, such power ultimately resides with the people. However, some of us are clearly more powerful than others.

African immigrants in the US have a responsibility. We have to become more politically active. We have to build coalitions that cut across cleavages created by ethnic differences, differences in national origin, class, and gender. Thus far, the associations that exist do not function in these ways. We also need to build alliances with other minority communities in the US. In order to understand the nature of the problems that we face, we need to understand the historical reasons for the problems that we may confront. We may also build coalitions that go beyond racial divisions. Many of us already remit money to our countries of origin. Many follow the politics of their home country actively, and even participate in the political process. We must go beyond these noble efforts, and help to build countries where immigration is not the only option for upward mobility for future generations. Moreover, if we see social and political relations as having an oppressive hegemonic character to them, and we choose not to be involved, then, those who have become the hegemons determine the questions on our behalf. Such hegemonic action goes against the whole ethos of democracy, and we must challenge those who oppress us under the guise of helping us.

The concept of hegemony which originated in Gramscian thought presents hegemonic relations as a dialectical struggle to exert and resist influence. A hegemonic project in this view goes beyond the threat or the use of force. It involves the development of an ideology that provides a rallying-point to the people in a political system and the acceptance of the world-view supported by this ideology as the norm. Following this conceptualization of hegemony, the creation of a consensus that we should focus on issues of law and order as our first priority, and that the solutions to the problems that arise from a breakdown of law and order lie in the application of overwhelming force that is expressed in the bombardment of certain "tough" neighborhoods with heavy police presence has become accepted conventional wisdom within the city of New York. The Giuliani administration is able to maintain control through the manipulation of ideology and through the use of "common sense" arguments that seem to defy us to find any reasons why things should be otherwise, given the heavy burdens of providing a safe city where we can all live together peacefully.

The embattled communities are operating in an environment of relative isolation from one another, and there is a considerable distance between whites, blacks, Latinos, and others in this city that preclude the realization that we share a common humanity, and that it is in the interest of all of us to struggle against the usurpation of our power by powerful groups in domestic politics and to resist policies that are harmful to our individual and collective well-being. We should also support policies that work to our advantage. One step in this direction is that the Diallo case appears to have galvanized many to look beyond the politics of color and attempt to build coalitions that demand accountability from our public officials.

Second, within every attempted hegemonic project lie the seeds of a future hegemony. The resistance of marginalization by social forces can also be conceptualized as an attempt to establish a counter-hegemony. This attempt may yield reactionary as well as progressive results. It also may fail or succeed. It is therefore not a foregone conclusion that the Sharpton-led protests will succeed. For an effective challenge to police brutality, we must all struggle in common and hammer out workable and morally supportable solutions. If we do this, we will be doing the right thing. We may just be able to prevent the entrenchment of the institutionalized oppression that exists in New York City, and indeed, throughout these United States.

A Sampling of Press Coverage of the Diallo Matter

The New York Times, April 16, 1999, Friday, Late Edition - Section B; Page 8; Column 1; Metropolitan Desk, "Veterans of 60's Protests Meet the Newly Outraged in a March," By N. R. Kleinfield.

USA TODAY, April 16, 1999, Friday through Sunday, First Edition, News;, Pg. 13A, "Thousands March to Decry Killing by NYC Policemen" John Bacon.

Daily News (New York), April 15, 1999, Thursday, News; Pg. 5, "B'klyn Bridge Diallo March Rally Is Expected to Snarl Traffic," by Leslie Casimir, Michele McPhee and Dave Goldiner With John Marzulli.

Daily News (New York), April 12, 1999, Monday, News; Pg. 6, "Warning Signs Lit at Elite Cop Unit," by John Marzulli and William K. Rashbaum.

Daily News (New York), April 11, 1999, Sunday, News; Pg. 2, "Diallos Meet Jesse in Chi.," by Paul Schwartzman.

Daily News (New York), April 11, 1999, Sunday, News; Pg. 2, "PBA Vs. Anti-Brutality Ads," by Tom Robbins.

Daily News (New York), April 10, 1999, Saturday, News; Pg. 14, "Kin Will Pray with Jesse," by Austin Fenner.

Daily News (New York), April 09, 1999, Friday, News; Pg. 80, "Ad Blitz Heralds March Against Cop Brutality," by Leslie Casimir.

Daily News (New York), April 08, 1999, Thursday, News; Pg. 29, "A New Voice Rising Rep. Meeks May Take Reins of Black Leadership," by Joel Siegel Daily News Senior Political Correspondent.

Daily News (New York), April 07, 1999, Wednesday, Editorial; Pg. 31, "Catching Bad Guys Is a 2-way Street in Respect," by Stanley Crouch.

Daily News (New York), April 05, 1999, Monday, News; Pg. 24, "Diallo Kin to Tour Vs. Cop Brutality," by Martin Mbugua With Maureen Fan.

Daily News (New York), April 04, 1999, Sunday, News; Pg. 10, "Rev. Al Vows Nationwide Rally Effort," by Michael Finnegan and Michael O. Allen.

The New York Times, April 4, 1999, Sunday, Late Edition - Section 1; Page 22; Column 1; Metropolitan Desk, "Capital Demonstration Widens Support for Diallo Rallies," By David M. Herszenhorn.

The Seattle Times, April 04, 1999, Sunday, Final Edition, News;, Pg. A6; "Across the Nation"; Tyler Mallory / the AP: "Che Sayles of Washington, D.C., Marches down Pennsylvania Avenue Yesterday to Protest Police Brutality Against Minorities."

Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN), April 4, 1999, Sunday, Metro Edition, News; Pg. 4A, National Digest.

The Tampa Tribune, April 4, 1999, Sunday, Final Edition, Pg. 13, "Demonstrators Protest Police Brutality."

The Washington Post, March 30, 1999, Tuesday, Final Edition, A section; Pg. A02, "Torture Trial, Shooting Put Giuliani, NYPD on Defensive"; "Divergent Cases Merge Into a Growing Political Attack on Mayor," Michael Grunwald, Washington Post Staff Writer, New York, March 29.

The Baltimore Sun, March 28, 1999,Sunday, ,FINAL, ,1B, "Radio Personality Fights Police Brutality Tirelessly," Gregory Kane.

Daily News (New York), March 28, 1999, Sunday, News; Pg. 26, "5 Cops Face Trial in Louima Attack," by Helen Peterson.

The New York Times, March 28, 1999, Sunday, Late Edition - Final, Section 1; Page 41; Column 5; Metropolitan Desk; Second Front, "The Diallo Shooting: the Strategy; Varied Group Lists Demands For the Police," By Jonathan P. Hicks.

Daily News (New York), March 27, 1999, Saturday, News; Pg. 6, "Jackson: Rudy Set Hostile Climate," by William K. Rashbaum, Frank Lombardi and Paul Schwartzman With Leslie Casimir, Frank Lombardi and Lisa Rein.

Daily News (New York), March 27, 1999, Saturday, News; Pg. 6, Jax: "Rudy Set Mean Cop Climate," by William K. Rashbaum, Frank Lombardi and Paul Schwartzman With Leslie Casimir and Lisa Rein.

USA Today, March 26, 1999, Friday, Final Edition, News;, Pg. 8A, "Law Officers, Reno Meet on Brutality," Kevin Johnson.

The Washington Post, March 26, 1999, Friday, Final Edition, A Section; Pg. A13, "4 New York Officers Indicted in Diallo Shooting," Michael Grunwald; Liz Leyden, Washington Post Staff Writers, New York, March 25.

Appendix 1

"I Can Never Get Used to Racial Profiling . . ."

By Cliff Redding.

I WORK nights. In a city that never sleeps, I shouldn't have a problem carving out a life. I should be able to stop off for a bite or a drink after my shift without the likelihood of being questioned, frisked, maimed or even killed by members of New York's Finest because I, like Amadou Diallo, "fit the profile." Now that four of New York's Finest were indicted last week for Diallo's murder, I'm hoping it's the end of open season on men of color.

It's not so bad when passengerless taxis pass me by. I've gotten used to that. Or when whites prefer to stand instead of taking the empty seat next to me on a bus or in a subway car. I've gotten used to that, too. Or when "security" follows me around. I've even gotten used to that. When you're a person of color in America, you get used to many things that don't make sense.

Besides, it's not like I have to drink out of a public water fountain marked "colored" the way many of my relatives had to, or ride in the back of a bus or not be allowed to vote.

But I can never get used to the "open season" mentality of the men in blue who claim to "own the night," and to protect it from the men in black, who happen to be brown or beige. Diallo fit the profile. Kenneth Boss, Sean Carroll, Edward McMellon and Richard Murphy fired 41 shots at him in February, hitting the unarmed man 19 times, killing him in the vestibule of his Bronx building. Abner Louima fit the profile. Justin Volpe, Charles Schwarz, Thomas Wiese and Thomas Bruder stand accused of beating him and violating his rectum with a wooden stick in 1997. Anthony Baez fit the profile. Francis Livoti choked him to death in 1994, after a football glanced off Livoti's squad car. Keshon Moore, Danny Reyes, Leroy Grant and Rayshawn Brown fit the profile. John Hogan and James Kenna fired 11 shots into the college students' van after they stopped the vehicle for speeding on the New Jersey Turnpike last April. It's always been open season on men of color.

I was stopped seven times over the course of several weeks by city cops in my own neighborhood, the upper East Side, while they were looking for a serial rapist in 1997. I looked nothing like any of the descriptions of the individual who has since been linked to 18 sexual attacks, but that didn't stop the cops from stopping me. The four cops indicted in Diallo's death said they were looking for a rapist, too. Apparently, a manhunt legitimizes cops stopping black and Latino men and roughing us up. Pin the tale on the brother.

Each time I was stopped, the cops were confrontational. Come here! Where are you going? Show me some ID! Forget CPR, the Police Department's Courtesy, Professionalism and Respect program. Who's to say I won't be stopped by a cop with an attitude and an itchy trigger finger? Even if I keep my cool, bite my tongue, I could easily end up a statistic, another dead victim of a peace officer who thought his life was in danger.

I complied, complained and even paid a visit to the local stationhouse. They told me I should be glad the police are doing such a bangup job looking for criminals. In the days immediately following Diallo's death, Mayor Giuliani crunched the numbers to support his position that the NYPD is restrained when it comes to shootings. Similarly, after my encounters, 19th Precinct cops told me that I'm "just going to have to get used to it." I can't get used to it, though. And maybe now that Diallo's killers are indicted, neither I nor others who fit "the profile" will have to.

Redding is a copy editor for the Daily News.

Appendix 2

"Street Crime Arrests Up, Rudy Says"

By Frank Lombardi, Leslie Casimir and John Marzulli

Mayor Giuliani yesterday said there has been a recent "improvement" in arrest activity by the street crime unit. The unit's arrests dropped 67% after four of its cops shot and killed Amadou Diallo Feb. 4, sparking months of protests and unrelenting scrutiny of the unit's aggressive tactics. The four cops were indicted last week on murder charges. Giuliani said yesterday that there had been improvement in the unit's arrest numbers in the prior four or five days. "The street crime unit is back again being somewhat more engaged than they were before," Giuliani said. He would not provide additional details.

Police officials have suggested that the murder rate and shootings are up because street crime cops are hesitant to make arrests. Ten days ago, Police Commissioner Howard Safir ordered members of the unit to work in uniform. Later yesterday, Safir offered a different assessment from Giuliani's when asked about the unit's numbers. "It's too soon to tell," he said. "But at the end of the week I'll have a briefing and then I'll have more to say about it."

Criminal-justice experts have expressed doubt that the Diallo shooting could have such an immediate impact on murders and shootings. The NYPD has logged eight more murders this year compared with the same period in 1998. Sunday was a particularly bloody day, with five killings logged in Brooklyn alone.

Meanwhile, Safir also said he had discussed with Deputy Mayor Rudy Washington a report that the black official was ordered out of his car by cops while driving home from a dinner in Queens. Washington's wife reportedly was reduced to tears during the incident. "I spoke to [Washington] today and our conversations are private," Safir said. Washington has declined to publicly discuss the incident.

In another Diallo-related development, the parents of the African immigrant will meet today with Cardinal O'Connor and on Thursday with the son of slain civil rights activist the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Then they will travel to Chicago to meet with the Rev. Jesse Jackson about organizing a 16-city tour across America to talk about their son's death.

"I still feel the pain," said Diallo's mother, Kadiadou. She and Diallo's father, Saikou, said they will remain in the United States for an undetermined time to work with the Rev. Al Sharpton and others to end police brutality and attend the cops' murder trial.

Appendix 3

"Officer Cleared in '97 Slay Evidence Doesn't Support His Indictment - B'klyn DA"

By Gene Mustain and Joe Calderone

One of the cops charged with murdering Amadou Diallo has been cleared of wrongdoing in the fatal 1997 shooting of a Brooklyn man who pointed a shotgun at him, prosecutors said. Investigators found that Kenneth Boss, 27, then a member of the 75th Precinct's anti-crime unit, acted properly in the October 1997 shooting of Patrick Bailey, 22, in East New York.

Bailey's friends and family have questioned whether he was carrying the shotgun which turned out to be broken at the moment of the shooting. A family lawyer said his wounds indicate he was shot from behind.

But Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, whose office interviewed 21 witnesses, including Boss and three other officers, said there is "no credible view of the evidence which would support criminal charges against the police." "It was reasonable for the police officers to believe that Mr. Bailey posed an imminent threat," he said.

Steven Brounstein, Boss' attorney, called Hynes' findings "a just and fair result. . . . My client acted justifiably and reasonably. He saved someone's life that day."

In the Diallo case, Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson has said the refusal of Boss and three other officers to provide details of the shooting played a role in the decision to seek a murder indictment.

In the Brooklyn case, however, Boss spoke with investigators and "cooperated fully," Hynes said.

Boss' attorney believes the highly charged atmosphere surrounding the Diallo shooting made the difference. "The political pressure on the grand jury in the Bronx basically eliminated our ability to get a fair hearing," Brounstein said.

An attorney for the Bailey family, which has filed a $155 million civil rights lawsuit alleging Bailey was allowed to bleed to death, said Hynes' office only tried to close the case after Boss became involved in the Diallo shooting. "We didn't expect an indictment from Mr. Hynes' office," said attorney Casilda Roper Simpson. "He didn't want to do anything."

In a 13-page report released yesterday, Hynes' office said three civilian witnesses disputed the police account, saying Bailey was not holding the shotgun when he was shot. But those witnesses were deemed unreliable because of inconsistencies in their statements. In all, 17 civilians were interviewed.

While on patrol at 11:35 p.m., Boss responded to a report that Bailey had threatened another man, Adell Smith, with a shotgun. According to the report, Boss pursued Bailey into a building and fired three times, hitting him twice, once in the right thigh and once in the right buttock, as Bailey turned toward him with a 26-inch-long, pump-action shotgun.

Appendix 4

"Warning Signs Lit at Elite Cop Unit"

By John Marzulli and William K. Rashbaum

Nearly 18% of cops from the NYPD's elite street crime unit have accumulated so many civilian complaints that they exceed warning levels set by department programs that monitor abusive officers, a Daily News review of documents shows. At least 65 of the 374 cops in the unit, which receives special training and is credited with helping reduce crime in dangerous neighborhoods, have complaint histories that should trigger three different monitoring programs.

The programs Force Monitoring, CCRB, or Civilian Complaint Review Board, Monitoring and Chief of Patrol's CCRB Reduction Program are triggered by different levels of complaints, but each is designed to place a potentially problem officer under scrutiny. A dozen street crime unit cops landed on the NYPD's list of the 400 officers with the most complaints on the force. Police officials, who did not challenge The News' findings, acknowledged that seven street crime cops had too many complaints for excessive force, which should trigger Force Monitoring. However, only one is under a monitoring program. "Cops who go into street crime are going to be active cops," NYPD Chief of Personnel Michael Markman said. "And active cops are more prone to getting civilian complaints." The unit, which made 3,994 felony arrests and seized 933 guns last year, has come under scrutiny since four of its members shot and killed Amadou Diallo Feb. 4. Federal and state prosecutors also are investigating whether street crime cops routinely violate the civil rights of blacks and Hispanics by unfairly singling them out for street searches.

Two of the unit's four cops who shot Diallo have troubling civilian complaint records. Officer Sean Carroll, who emptied his gun at Diallo, logged three complaints from March 1996 to March 1997 in which he was accused of punching, kicking, beating and pepper-spraying suspects. The complaints were deemed unfounded or unsubstantiated. Officer Kenneth Boss has two complaints of excessive force both of which were closed because the complainants did not cooperate with the CCRB, and one of verbal abuse, which was declared unfounded. As a result of the monitoring programs, 32 street crime cops were evaluated and seven were bounced from the unit, First Deputy Commissioner Patrick Kelleher said. Under CCRB Monitoring, top police brass do an extensive review of a cop's work history, off-duty activities and quarterly evaluations are conducted in addition to standard annual checkups. Force Monitoring calls for quarterly evaluations, could include a transfer and requires Internal Affairs to respond to any complaint or incident involving the officer. There are 187 cops in the program departmentwide. The Chief of Patrol's program calls for monitoring by the cop's commanding officer and supervisors. "Just because you're under monitoring doesn't mean that you have done something terribly wrong," Kelleher said. "That does not mean you're a bad cop or you shouldn't be allowed to continue to do what you're doing.

Appendix 5

"Diallos Meet Jesse in Chicago"

By Paul Schwartzman

"At least when you are violated by a stranger or a neighbor . . . you can call the police," said Jackson. "But when the policeman is the bearer of violence and empowered by the state with a badge and a gun, that's terrorism.

"It is open season on blacks," he said.

Jackson was joined at the morning rally at the civil rights leader's Rainbow/PUSH Coalition headquarters by Diallo's mother and father, Kadiadou and Saikou Diallo, as well as the Rev. Al Sharpton, who with the Diallos has organized a 16-city tour aimed at highlighting the issue of police brutality. The couple's son died in a hail of 41 police bullets on Feb. 4 as he stood in the vestibule of his Bronx apartment building.

Kadiadou Diallo said blacks and other oppressed people should unite to end injustice, regardless of their differences. "I want this day to be historic for all the victims of the world . . . so that such a thing will not happen again," she told an audience of hundreds of cheering people.

Diallo family members are expected to participate in a Thursday march against police brutality that Sharpton is organizing in downtown Manhattan. Next weekend, the family is scheduled to travel to Riverside, Calif., the site of a controversial police shooting last year. The Diallos, Jackson added, have expressed a wish to meet President Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno.

"If the President can meet with people who win championships, he can do this," said Jackson, who plans to forward the family's request. "They deserve an audience."

This article was first published in Ominira: Journal of the Department of African and African American Studies, in Spring 1999.

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