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Jewish World ReviewJan. 13, 2000/ 6 Shevat, 5760

Cathy Young

Cathy Young
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Peace maker or dupe? --
A PARENT WHO LOSES A CHILD to a senseless murder can hardly be expected to be civil, reasonable, or judicious. One can't really condemn the bereaved mother or father for trying to find some sense in the tragedy by blaming it on greater social forces -- a "war against women" or deeply ingrained societal racism -- even if such claims are not supported by evidence and are deeply and bitterly divisive.

But a parent who, having suffered such a loss, manages to resist the seduction of demagoguery and keep things in perspective can only be seen as heroic.

Such heroism has been shown by Kadiatou Diallo, the African businesswoman whose 22-year-old son Amadou was gunned down by four New York City policemen last February. He died in a hail of bullets, with 41 shots fired at him; he was unarmed, though the officers said that they thought he had a weapon. The four are going on trial later this month.

People of all political persuasions and all racial backgrounds were horrified by the killing. But Diallo's death also became a rallying cry for the left, eager for a pretext to vilify the tough-on-crime policies of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

When Kadiatou Diallo arrived in New York for the sad task of taking her son's body back to his homeland, she quickly became a political symbol. She soon found herself in the company of racial agitator Al Sharpton, whose specialty is to hinder the resolution of criminal cases in which race is a factor and to exploit these cases for politics and publicity.

In March, the grieving mother returned to the United States to join Sharpton's 16-city tour speaking against police brutality. But after the second stop, in Chicago, she bowed out. At the Chicago rally, Sharpton declared that Third World immigrants were deluded when they came to the United States in search of the American dream; instead of a better life, they were likely to find discrimination, hardship and police violence. Another speaker was Jesse Jackson, who asserted that the killing of Diallo showed that in America "it's open season on blacks."

Mrs. Diallo, it seems, does not share these sentiments. She has insisted that her son loved America, and she evidently doesn't think he was wrong. Talking to New York Times Magazine writer Ted Conover, she would not openly criticize Sharpton, but she also made it clear that she didn't want the murder case to be "Reverend Sharpton versus Giuliani." While she urges people to attend the trial in solidarity with the Diallo family, she stresses that it should be a peaceful show of support, not protest rallies.

In a further declaration of independence, last August Kadiatou Diallo fired the "dream team" of O.J. Simpson attorneys Johnnie Cochran, Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld, who had been representing her son's estate in a lawsuit against the city, and hired a non-celebrity, non-activist lawyer (who also happens to be white). Through him, she made a statement that the marches and demonstrations in the aftermath of her son's death were exacerbating racial strife and that it was time for healing.

This has not endeared her to some people. In an angry column in the New York Amsterdam News, Sharpton crony and disbarred lawyer Alton Maddox, Jr. called Mrs. Diallo "either an opportunist or a fool" and unfavorably contrasted her to Rosa Parks, whose refusal to give up her bus seat to a white man in 1955 helped spark the civil rights movement. But maybe Kadiatou Diallo is a Rosa Parks for our time -- a woman whose quest for justice is combined with a passion for racial peace and goodwill.

Democratic presidential contender Bill Bradley has often said that racial unity is the heart of his agenda, a message that many believe he has compromised by appearing with Sharpton in New York last fall. If Bradley is sincere, he could hardly do better than to stand side by side with Kadiatou Diallo.

JWR contributor Cathy Young is co-founder and vice-president of the Women’s Freedom Network and author of Ceasefire! Why Women and Men Must Join Forces to Achieve True Equality Send your comments to her by clicking here.

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