• Text smaller
  • Text bigger

To: Rev. Al Sharpton

From: Jude Wanniski

Re: The Diallo Verdict

I’m writing in defense of the unanimous jury verdict of “not guilty”
in the shooting death of Amadou Diallo by four white NYC cops. Before
you decide this missive is from an insensitive honky, let me assure you
that I was one of the few white guys on my block who defended the
acquittal of O.J. Simpson when the verdict came down. As I wrote then,
Oct. 6, 1995: “The
trial of O.J. Simpson demonstrated something of incredible importance to
black America. That is, we have finally reached a point in our national
family that a physical black man could be tried for murdering a
beautiful, blonde white woman, that a mountain of evidence would seem to
point toward his guilt, that almost all of white America would believe
in his guilt, and yet the law of presumed innocence peculiar to our
nation would free him on the reasonable doubt of a jury of his peers.”

As my headline on this memo indicates, Rev. Sharpton, my reasoning on
the Diallo death was that he was killed by “friendly fire,” and that
there should be no guilt attached to the officers in the minds of the
black community our or theirs. In a war zone, soldiers at times
accidentally shoot and kill their own comrades. What we term “friendly
fire” is precisely due to the dangers of war zones, where the sudden
sighting of what appears to be an armed hostile results in a hail of
bullets from both sides of a common unit. Yes, if Amadou Diallo was not
a black man, he would be alive today. But the police were looking for a
black man who had raped a neighborhood girl, which is why they did not
come to my door in Morristown, N.J. The black and Hispanic Bronx has
been a war zone for many years. The cops who opened fire when they
believed they found their man in a tenement
hallway, with a gun in his hand, fired 41 bullets, but we now know the
jury put the 41 out of their minds and concentrated on the first shot.
Was it justified?

When the story first broke, I became upset when my wife became
outraged at the idea of 41 shots being fired at an innocent black guy. I
was ready to jump up and down myself, until I read the first account,
which explained the reason for the hail of bullets: The angles in the
corridor were causing
the bullets to ricochet back at the police, who thought their “man” was
returning their fire. When I reported this to my wife, she immediately
saw that she had perhaps been hasty. As with the O.J. trial — where she
agreed the reasonable doubt justified acquittal, we decided to leave
this to a jury to sort out. When we learned one of the cops mistook
Diallo’s hand on his wallet for his hand on a gun … and yelled out,
“The gun!” prompting fire … it seemed the reaction of the officers may
have been unjustified. Perhaps they were too trigger happy and as a
result should somehow be punished, even if there was no verdict of
manslaughter.

Then we learned the officer who saw the gun/wallet had experienced
the sight of a wallet in a man’s hand in a way that made it look as if
he were gripping a small pistol. The jurors were shown such a gun and
pictures that made it appear a man holding a wallet was holding a gun.
It was this final straw that broke the back of the prosecution. And it
left me with the image of “friendly fire.” Of course I am not happy with
the death of an innocent man, but I am increasingly irritated by those
in the political world or news media who are so quick to denounce the
jury of eight whites and four blacks who came to the only decision
consistent with our legal system.

By the way, Rev. Sharpton, I have also defended your role in the
black community, in cooling off the passions aroused by the decision.
Where my old colleagues at the Wall Street Journal editorial page
trashed you in Monday’s lead editorial — calling you a “demagogue” — I
read your statement as a reasoned one that fit the distress felt at the
moment by black citizens of New York who did not have the opportunity
the 12 jurors had to see the evidence played out.

For those who missed your statement and saw only photos of you
appearing to harangue the crowds, here is the relevant part of your
remarks:

    I’ve been asked by the family to go to the street where Amadou
    lived to
    let the people know that we’ve not given up, that we do not want to
    tarnish
    his name with any violence. Let not one brick be thrown, not one bottle
    be
    thrown, not one evidence of violence come from us. We are fighting
    violence
    – violent men that shoot an unarmed man 41 times and then stand up in
    court and try to act like there is justification for that. Do not
    confuse
    us with the violent ones and the reckless ones. For those that believe
    in
    Amadou, do not betray his memory by acting like those that killed him.
    Don’t be a traitor; be one that is willing to go the long haul for
    justice.
    We are on our way to dealing with the federal government so that we can
    clear up in this land that any man has the right to stand on his
    doorstep,
    any man in this nation has the right to look down his street, any man
    has
    the right to expect the police are protecting him, not shooting him.

As a prominent and respected spiritual and political leader in
the black community, this kind of statement seemed reasonable to me
under the circumstances. Even while I absolve the police officers of
wrongdoing, as did the Albany jurors, I know Diallo’s death should have
a higher purpose. one that helps lead our national family on a path that
makes “friendly fire” and urban “war zones” a nasty memory.

  • Text smaller
  • Text bigger
Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.