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Jewish World Review March 8, 2000 /31 Adar I, 5760

Mona Charen

Mona Charen
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Was justice done to Amadou Diallo? --
COLUMNIST WILLIAM RASPBERRY cannot shake the feeling of being "mad -- or scared" at the verdict acquitting four officers in the accidental shooting of Amadou Diallo.

It's useful to read Raspberry at a time like this because he is a fair-minded man who would sooner eat cactus leaves than stir up unnecessary racial animosity. So listen to what is troubling him. Diallo, he writes, "should not have died." That much is obvious. Everyone agrees that it was a terrible and grievous mistake. Second, he writes, "Diallo wouldn't have been killed had he not been black ..."

That is very likely true as well.

To the protesters who have filled the streets, this signifies that white police hold the lives of blacks very cheap.

But there is an alternative explanation. The fear of black men experienced by all police (black and white alike) is not prejudice (though it can coexist with prejudice), it is a rational response to experience. In Baltimore as recently as five years ago, more than 50 percent of black males between the ages of 18 and 35 were in prison or under criminal justice supervision. In California during the same period, 33 percent of black males between the ages of 20 and 29 were either in jail, on probation or on parole, compared with 5 percent of whites and 9 percent of Hispanics. Black males are 6 percent of the U.S. population, yet comprise 43 percent of those arrested for rape, 55 percent of those arrested for murder and 61 percent of those arrested for robbery.

Even Jesse Jackson once admitted that if he is walking alone at night and hears footsteps behind him, he is "relieved" if he turns and finds that the pursuer is white.

So, yes, Amadou Diallo probably lost his life in part because he looked like so many of the young men in that neighborhood who are seriously dangerous. That is extremely sad, but are the police to blame?

The police go into dangerous neighborhoods and seek out the very people the rest of us would go to any lengths to avoid. The night Diallo was killed, the officers were searching for a serial rapist. Diallo, tragically, fit the profile. When police called out to him to put his hands up, he instead turned away and toward the door.

Diallo then reached into his pocket and withdrew what turned out to be a black wallet. But one of the officers, perhaps primed by adrenaline and inexperience, screamed "gun." He began shooting, and then slipped and fell. The other officers assumed their partner had been hit and let fly with 40 or so more bullets. The whole terrible thing took only 10 seconds.

We have heard from the demagogues that Diallo's shooting fits into a larger pattern of police brutality inaugurated by the Giuliani administration to fight crime. Not so. The police have gotten more cautious, not less, about using deadly force since Giuliani took office. Police shot an average of 212 suspects a year before Giuliani and 73 in 1999. Complaints to the civilian review board about police conduct have been cut in half during Giuliani's tenure.

Police have gotten much more aggressive about stopping and frisking people they fear may be carrying illegal weapons. And it is this -- specifically the indignity suffered by law-abiding black people -- that seems to be the true cause of the hostility to Giuliani's tactics. But the stop and frisk policy has netted roughly 10,000 illegal guns per year; confiscations that have saved thousands of lives -- mostly black lives.

About 20,000 innocent people (or innocent at that moment) have had their dignity wounded each year while police patted them for guns. But the murder rate in the most dangerous neighborhoods has dropped by as much as 81 percent, with comparable reductions in property crimes. Isn't it odd that black spokesmen are so indifferent to this success?

Amadou Diallo paid with his life for the high crime rate of American blacks. It's a tragedy, but asking the world to pretend that police should treat everyone exactly the same -- a young black male exactly like a young black female, a gray-haired black grandmother just like a group of tough young hustlers -- is to ask the absurd.

But the absurdity party is winning. Since the Diallo shooting, the number of street crime arrests in New York has dropped by 60 percent and the murder rate has edged up.

JWR contributor Mona Charen reads all of her mail. Let her know what you think by clicking here. Please bear in mind, though, that while all letters are read, due to the heavy amount of traffic, not all letters can be answered.

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate