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Jewish World Review March 3, 2000 /26 Adar 1, 5760

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell
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Law or mob rule? -- DO YOU WANT to live under the rule of law or under mob rule? Virtually everyone will say that they want to live under the rule of law. But what people say is not nearly as important as what they do. And what far too many people are doing is moving us closer toward mob rule.

The recent trial of four policemen for the shooting of Amadou Diallo was a painful but classic example. It was clear what the angry mobs wanted -- they wanted convictions. So did our so-called first lady, who declared that it was "murder" before the first speck of evidence was presented in a court of law.

Both in the courtroom and in the media, those who thwarted the mob's desires had their addresses made public.

A witness who said that Amadou Diallo was acting suspiciously, even before the police arrived on the scene, not only had his street address but his apartment number made public by the prosecuting attorney in the courtroom. Where this witness lived was absolutely irrelevant to whether these policemen were guilty or innocent, since the witness testified only to what he saw while on the street walking home.

What this was relevant to was intimidating a witness for the defense, who had to fear that what he said on the stand could put himself and his family in danger.

A nurse who was attending a patient across the street from the shooting was asked for the patient's name, even though the patient was not a witness and had not claimed to have seen or heard anything. When an objection was raised to that information, the prosecutor then wanted to know whether the patient was a man or a woman and what age. None of this had anything to do with whether the police were guilty or innocent. But it had a lot to do with intimidating a witness who might fear for the safety of someone who was ill and helpless.

Before testifying, both these witnesses had asked that their faces not be shown on television, so they were obviously already concerned for their safety if they said something that the mob didn't like. Against that background, for the prosecutor to be trying to identify people and pinpoint addresses that had nothing to do with the issue before the court was unconscionable -- and for the presiding judge to sit there and let it happen was disgraceful.

This was the same judge who ordered a witness' statement that Diallo was acting suspiciously stricken from the record.

Ironically, one of the charges against the police was reckless endangerment. But that is precisely what happened to witnesses in the courtroom and to jurors after they had acquitted those whom the mob wanted convicted.

At the end of the trial, the judge read a statement from both the jurors and the alternates, saying that they did not want any contact with the media. Yet they were not only deluged with phone calls from the media and others, but the jury foreman had her name and the town she lived in published in the New York Times.

This is not the first time the NY Times has published the names of jurors who reached a verdict they didn't like. They published the names and employers of the jurors who acquitted the policemen charged in the beating of Rodney King.

Do we want witnesses who will say what they saw or who will say only what the mob wants to hear -- or witnesses who will refuse to come forward to say anything at all, because they know that they may be putting themselves and their families in danger?

Do we want jurors who will decide the case on the basis of the evidence in the courtroom or on the basis of the mobs outside the courtroom -- or the mobs that could be outside their homes if they don't vote the way the media, the activists and the loudmouths want them to vote?

The media in general, with their constant drumbeat of four "white" policeman who shot a "black" man, did not cover themselves with glory, even if they did not all sink to the level of the New York Times in abetting mob influence on the judicial process. Incidentally, in a truly hideous and deliberate crime committed while this trial was going on, a just-paroled criminal hijacked a car and dragged the little boy who was in it to his death. But no one pointed out that the race of this criminal differed from the race of his victim. Race is hyped only when it is politically correct.

The politicization of justice -- whether in the media or in the courtrooms -- is playing with a fire that can consume us all.

JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author, most recently, of The Quest for Cosmic Justice.


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© 2000, Creators Syndicate