|Murder Trial Focuses on Fear and Hatred|
|Who will speak for
by Raymond M. Brown, Special to MSNBC
NEW YORK, Feb. 7
In his opening remarks to the jury last week, the prosecutor in the case charged that the defendants left their
unmarked car near Diallos apartment house and gave no commands before
opened fire. Lawyers for the defendants contend Diallo ignored their warnings and reached for an object which proved to be a black
wallet. They say Diallos actions made them shoot.
Time-honored legal principles say that reasonable fear can justify the use of appropriate force. This explains defense counsels promise that these defendants will testify about the fear that launched their 41-bullet fusillade that killed the only person who could actually say what fear the young immigrant felt that night
It is not uncommon for police shootings to occur in the absence of witnesses. Therefore we can expect some clichéd courtroom answers to the question of who will speak for Amadou Diallo. The wounds from the 19 rounds that pierced his body; the angles at which they penetrated will tell whether he was standing or prone when shot, and how far away the defendants were when they opened fire. The brightness of the lights, the pattern of the shots will serve as voices for Diallo. Perhaps that is the best the state can do. But these will be oblique voices matched against dramatic tales of fear and danger told by policeman who, if convicted, face imprisonment and disgrace.
How, then, can we know Diallos feelingsand actions just before his death? The defendants claim they displayed their badges: did Diallo ignore their status, weaponry and warnings? Should we assume that he reached quickly for his wallet in a gesture guaranteed to unleash a barrage of bullets? These defendants say yes but who speaks for Diallo?
Defense counsel has proposed an
answer. The defendants attorneys say Diallo behaved suicidally in the
face of four aggressive policemen because he had immigration problems
stemming from his false asylum claim.
In the process, I have become reacquainted with the writings of the late Howard Thurman, a black theologian who sat with Mohandas K. Gandhi and counseled the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In considering the connection between fear
hatred, Thurman raised the unlikely story of Bambi to explain how the children of the disinherited are conditioned
to reduce their exposure to violence. He described how the old stag in the
story trained the young deer to detect and avoid the hunters gun: The stag, Thurman wrote, is unwilling to leave
Bambi until he is sure that the young deer has made his body commit to memory
ways of behaving that will protect and safeguard his life.
African-American parents spend lifetimes teaching children to commit to memory life-protecting behavior in the presence of police: No back talk; no sudden movements; keep your hands in view. The black child in America not schooled in these survival skills has not been truly parented.
Amadou Diallo was born in Guinea. Are we to assume he had not absorbed this code of survival for folks of color as he hustled videos on Manhattans streets and lived in the same Bronx that so frightened the police? Will these lessons be discussed in the jury room and by the body politic?
But fear of protests in New York have led the
court to move the Diallo to Albany, a city as racially and culturally distant from the Bronx as the Casbah is from the Yukon.
Was there no one in the world inhabited by Amadou Diallo to teach him the lessons of survival? Did he not absorb some of them himself? A Bronx jury would wrestle with these questions compelled by experience to delve into the heart of all the fears and their impostors that were afoot that night. That four blacks are on the Albany jury and that three jurors have had ties to the Bronx may shed some light on these dark questions. But is it enough?
Raymond M. Brown is a trial attorney in New Jersey and host of the PBS program, Inside the Law. A veteran Court TV correspondent and anchor, he now teaches international criminal law at Seton Hall University and is a legal analyst for MSNBC.