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Who Will Humanize Diallo?

By Earl Ofari Hutchinson, Ph.D.



The frenzied search is on to find out why the four white New York police officers who shot African immigrant Amadou Diallo walked out of an Albany court free men. One answer came from a defense attorney who watched the trail proceedings closely. He noted that the defense attorneys for the officers smartly defied the conventional defense trial strategy of refusing to put a defendant on the stand to testify in their behalf. This strategy was glaringly apparent in the O.J. Simpson trial. Instead the attorneys put the four cops on the stand. In doing this the defense was able to "humanize" them. In other words they came off not as the racist, brutes as many depicted them, but as honest cops who simply made a terrible error in judgment. It worked. Unfortunately the price to humanize the four white officers was to devalue the life of a black victim. But this was really not that hard to do. Two centuries of legal slavery and the decades of legal segregation, lynchings, mob violence gave the firm signal that blacks had few legal and political rights and need not look to the police and the courts to protect them.

During much of the 20th Century, blacks were typecast in the media and popular culture as lazy, buffonish, and crime-prone. The civil rights movement of the 1960s brought only slight improvement to the black image. By the 1980s the shallow reservoir of white goodwill and tolerance generated by the civil rights movement had long since dried up and much of the media and the public once more transformed blacks into the stereotype of the pimp, dope-dealer and gang banger. The slash and burn assaults on jobs, education, health and social programs; and the roll-back of civil rights and affirmative action touched off a fresh round of black bashing and replanted the notion that blacks were an expendable commodity.

The O.J. Simpson verdict, the Million Man March, the Rodney King beating, the L.A. riots further widened the racial gap and ignited a full head long retreat into a dangerous racial knownothingism in which black and white communities appeared more as warring camps then socially interactive communities. Blacks, especially young black males, were now blamed for much of the crime and violence in America. The public screamed for more police, prosecutors, prisons and tougher laws. The prison cells quickly began to bulge with young black males.

The "us vs. them" low intensity racial warfare that has badly disfigured relations between the police and many blacks has taken a big toll on many law enforcement and public officials as well as those in the black communities. It has forced many police officials to defend the morally and legally indefensible practice of racial profiling on the grounds that blacks are cop-hating lawbreakers and therefore cracking down on them is merely good law enforcement. It has pushed many public officials into near paralysis when it comes to reigning in police violence. They dread being branded soft on crime. Meanwhile the police-black conflict reinforces the already deep belief of many blacks that the police have an open license to kill and maim in the black communities and, as in the Diallo shooting, won't hesitate to use it.

This dangerous mix of mistrust and hostility between many blacks and the police sparked the intense rage that followed the controversial shootings of Tyisha Miller, Margaret Mitchell, Diallo and other blacks. Worse, the refusal by police, prosecutors and juries to vigorously punish officers who overuse deadly force against blacks fortifies political mean-spiritedness, widens the crisis and turmoil in the inner cities, pollutes the political process, mars the criminal justice system, and expands the racial divide.

There is faint hope that the Justice Department will do more than merely "review" the Albany verdict and will bring federal civil rights charges against the officers. But given the Justice Department's rabid reluctance to second guess state prosecutors when it comes to prosecuting cops there is no almost no likelihood that this will happen.

The Albany verdict will probably stand. And it will again send the frightening message that black lives are still less valuable than white lives.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is a nationally syndicated columnist and the director of the National Alliance for Positive Action.

Dr. Earl Ofari Hutchinson is the author of "The Crisis in Black and Black" email: Middle Passage Press available at all bookstores!
Copyright 2000 by Afrocentric News. Earl Ofari Hutchinson Articles

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