No More "Tragic Accidents"
by the Editorial Board


By now the entire world knows the outcome the trial of the four white New York City policeman who killed Guinean immigrant Amadou Diallo in the vestibule of the apartment building where he lived. While we can understand the popular rage that followed, we see little point in joining the outcry against "racist" cops or trying to second-guess the jury, which listened to the evidence and deliberated for three days before reaching its verdict. Another "tragic accident" has been added to a long list.

But we would like to ask why do these accidents happen so frequently in places like the Bronx and South Central Los Angeles, and so rarely in places like Scarsdale, Wellesley, and Winnetka? Accidents are funny things: if a passenger is killed by a bomb planted on an airplane, his death may in a certain sense be an accident. After all, who knew he would be on the plane? At the same time it would be a certainty that a bomb planted on an airplane would kill some people. The four police who gunned down Amadou Diallo may not have set out that day to kill him or anybody else, but it is a certainty that if police are sent into dangerous areas, given firearms, and promised exoneration for any killing they do when they feel their safety is threatened, then innocent people are going to die.

It is interesting to compare the outcome of this trial with that of the earlier trial of the New York City police who tortured Haitian immigrant Abner Louima. The guilty verdict in that case, limited though it was, was a signal that deliberate, intentional, sadistic, perverted, racially-motivated behavior on the part of the police would no longer be tolerated. Someone was going to have to go down. In the case of Amadou Diallo, the verdict is a signal that police killings, so long as they occur in the line of duty and are the result of reasonable judgment, will be a normal part of life.

The two verdicts, taken together, reflect the evolution of whiteism since the Civil Rights movement: conscious discrimination on the basis of color is against the law and no longer tolerated in respectable circles, while the gap in living conditions between black and white persists and even expands.

If the police had pumped nineteen bullets, one at a time, into Amadou Diallo as he lay bleeding on the floor, the jury would likely have reached a different verdict. Instead, he was shot by short blasts from automatic weapons, which fired forty-two rounds before anyone could even take a breath, nineteen of which entered his body and killed him. Whatever this jury or a future civil jury decides about the police judgement in this case, we think a crime was committed. The crime, at the very least, was the issuance to the police of automatic weapons, which virtually ensure that every "accident" will be a fatal one.

We suggest, therefore, as a FIRST STEP, a campaign to take these killer automatic weapons out of the hands of the police.

Let us see who is serious about preventing future "tragic accidents."

new abolitionist society
copyright 1999