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Remembering Black History Month: Rudy Guiliani & Hillary Clinton

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Message John Pagoda
We are socialized to celebrating events throughout our lives from birth to death. Today, February 25, for example is my son's birthday. I remember his mother calling me at work to tell me that her water broke. When the significance of her statement finally occurred to me I was in a mad rush to pick her up and drive her to the hospital to give birth to my son.

But today while remembering that exceptionally warm February day in 1976 I am compelled to recall that cold bleak February 25th in 2000 when the political establishment as well as the black community in city of Albany New York, the city of New York, indeed the State of New York and its politicians, past and present prefer to forgets.

For it was on this day in 2000 when a jury in Albany NY decided that NYPD officers Edward McMellon, Sean Carroll, Kenneth Boss, and Richard Murphy committed no crime, neither murder nor manslaughter, not even criminally negligent homicide when they acted as judge, jury, and executioners of an unarmed 22 year old Bronx street peddler who immigrated from Guinea in West Africa named Ahmed Amadou Diallo.

The officers involved were assigned to a street-crime unit investigating a rape pattern in the area of a city where 16 black "suspects" are stopped for every arrest made. They were following standard police procedure of "stop and frisk" which was adopted by then Mayor Rudy Giuliani and his new police Chief William Bratton.

The policy known as "zero-tolerance policing" can be traced to a 1982 article written by James Q Wilson, a conservative (before they became "compassionate") political scientist who declared that no offence was too small - not begging in doorways, single-joint marijuana sales in public parks, and no offender too low-level to escape police attention because it is the seemingly insignificant signs of disorder that lay the groundwork for more serious street crime and social decay.

Economic or social explanations of crime were no longer acceptable in a city characterized by staggering social inequality where social spending is repeatedly slashed while police ranks and financing of the instrumentalities of fascism are increased in order to defend the haves against the have-nots - the top 20 percent income bracket makes 25 times more than the bottom in the Big Apple where the nation's largest homeless population walks the same streets as do the world's greatest concentration of multi-millionaires.

While this firing squad execution (41 shots were fired at a man, a black man, who reached for his wallet to provide his identification) occurred in the Bronx the trial was moved to Albany to insure the cops would get a fair trail and a guaranteed acquittal as evidenced by presiding Judge Teresi who made it clear that whether or not Diallo posed any threat to the police was beside the point.

Teresi said the jury only had to conclude that the cops fired out of a subjective fear as he invited the jurors to "put yourselves in the officers' shoes". Teresi's charge implied here was no need to put oneself in Diallo's shoes for after his body absorbed 19 of 41 shots fired he was dead and after all he was just another black man.

Hours after the verdict, Teresi visited the police officers' attorneys at a bed-and-breakfast and thanked them for their "cooperation" but made no such visit to the prosecution nor the mother or father who no longer had a son.

Mayor Rudy Giuliani hailed the acquittal and heaped praise on a jury system that barred the residents he represented from sitting as jurors. "It fills me with profound respect for being an American and for living in a country that has a trial by jury". He then went on to attack "anti-police prejudice" and compared the NYPD to "civil rights workers".

US Senator Hillary Clinton responded to the verdict by saying "We must all work together toward the day when all citizens and all police treat each other with mutual respect". She then went on to apologize for having previously referred to the Diallo shooting as "murder" and declared her support for the death penalty in cases where police officers are killed.

Meanwhile the Rev Al Sharpton often the object of ridicule by the mainstream media was imploring those outraged by the verdict that "not one brick or bottle be thrown" to express outrage at this latest injustice while Il Duce Giuliani was claiming that the protests against such overt racism were "silly".

That the same Rudy Giuliani today leads all Republican contenders in the 2008 presidential polls is based in part on the claim he cleaned up New York City. That he did so by targeting the African-American poor as public enemy number 1 is a strong indication that racism continues to divide us between those who believe in justice and equality for all and justice and equality for those who can afford it.

Years later I remember peacefully demonstrating against this crime, this act of state sponsored terrorism, this legitimization of murder by wondering why there weren't more people of color standing shoulder to shoulder. Perhaps they have been conditioned by centuries of racism to accept such injustice and delay until another day the realization of Rev Martin Luther King' dream that "one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal".
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