Terrible Tragedy, Teachable Moment
While it is trite to describe the massacre of Amadou Diallo as a “teachable moment,” the educator in me seeks to gain something from the tragic killing of an innocent Black man in the Bronx, New York, on February 4, 1999.
The “wilding” of the Special Crimes Task Force, their trial and acquittal, are all alarming to those who do not know or understand history. To those who were once repelled that Byron de la Beckwith was able to breathe free air for 30 years after he killed Medgar Evers, this is nothing more than par for the course.
Unfortunately, Black life has been systematically devalued in White America. There are those who will chafe at this statement, interpreting it as the leftover rhetoric of an era past.
But the facts are the facts. There is Black life. It is devalued in an America that has a predominately White culture. It is as White as the acknowledged race of all of our presidents, as White as the photographs that illustrate our money. It is as White as our Senate, which has had just two African-American members and one Native-American member in this century. It is as White as our Federal Reserve Board, which has had two whole African-American members.
Black life has been devalued in White America. Historically. Systematically. Methodically.
Perhaps it began with a Constitution that counted us as fractional people. Certainly, the Dred Scott decision — in which the Supreme Court asserted that Black people had no rights that Whites were bound to respect — set a terrible tone.
The broken promise of 40 acres and a mule parallels the ugly reality of incorrectly convicted prisoners whose time served is never compensated. Those never convicted often quivered in the wake of a “just us” system that allowed Whites to take the lives and property of African Americans without consequence. The only thing new about the execution of Amadou Diallo is the expectation that his killers would pay something, anything. Perhaps not the price for murder, but certainly the price for reckless endangerment.
Some of us had hope because the jury was racially mixed. Perhaps we thought some of the African Americans had heard of jury nullification and were willing to ignore the very biased instructions that came from the trial judge. Instead of jury nullification, though, we got Negro syncopation, which is historically consistent with the African-American collaborators who would steal our dreams and stomp out our joy.
In Pascagoula, Miss., for example, a Black woman complained that having a noose placed around her neck was discriminatory and tantamount to assault. Some lawyer found one of her Ingalls Shipbuilding colleagues to testify that he wouldn’t take offense to a noose, that images of lynching were simple “workplace horseplay” for him.
Similarly, there is some Black man somewhere arguing that Diallo’s killing is a “tragedy,” but the police were not wrong to shoot him. Let four brothers fire up a White boy and see if anyone feels the same way.
Granted, acquittals come when people cannot say “beyond reasonable doubt” that a defendant is guilty. But why are some of the same Whites who could not accept the OJ verdict saying the system worked with the killer cops?
Give me a break.
New York Mayor Rudolph Guiliani wasn’t giving anyone a break or a rest. Instead of offering conciliatory words when the February 25 verdict was announced, Guiliani chose to chasten the New York public on something he called anti-police bias. Cops are human beings, too, Guiliani said.
Tell that to those who have been on the receiving end of police abuse. Usually skin is bruised and feelings are hurt, but on Feb. 4, 1999, a man paid for the cowboy-cop mentality with his life.
It is important to put the murder and the acquittal of Diallo’s killers in context. White folks have never been held accountable for their awful intrusions into the viability of Black life. Nobody was convicted of the bombing of the Birmingham church that collapsed on four little girls. It took 30 years to get justice after de la Beckwith murdered Medgar Evers.
Teachers who tell the Diallo story must put it in context. They must speak of the history of antipathy between African Americans and those “law enforcement” workers who theoretically protect them. They must speak of the many ways that Black life has been devalued by the White power structure. They must call names and talk about those judges whose ugly seed is about to bear fruit in this Diallo case.
If American racism were to have a relay, someone would have to pass the baton between the Dred Scott decision, Reconstruction, the acquittal of de la Beckwith and his ilk and the acquittal of Amadou Diallo’s murderers. Many feel the pain of the Diallo murder. Some have transformed pain into power by treating the massacre as a teachable moment. Since Diallo’s killers were acquitted during Black history month, the treatment of their acquittal as a teachable moment is the only way to provide it with redeeming social value.
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com