July 19, 2014
Police ShootingsEven before starting to take histories from applicants hoping to use cannabis legally in California, I'd spent 4 years– from 1997 to 2001, editing a weekly newsletter based on a database of media reports on the drug war. Because it required reading about three hundred news items a week; it became an intense education on how our drug policy was corrupting the nation and encouraging gross injustice.
It soon became clear that that police agencies at all levels had to participate in the policy to make it work; also that they required almost complete legal immunity for whatever untoward events their enforcement activities might produce.
I recently had occasion to recall two particularly egregious cases from that early experience; both involved people of color who had come to the attention of police during Mayor Giuliani's tenure as New York's mayor. One was the 1999 case of a man named Amadu Diallo in what turned out to be a case of mistaken suspicion. Because he was thought to resemble the description of a serial rapist, Diallo was hailed by four plain clothes cops. Apparently spooked, and not realizing the men were police, Diallo ran for the apparent security of his apartment building, with its automatically locking door (for which he had the key). Once inside the vestibule and apparently still confused, he reached for his wallet. One of the officers, thinking he was reaching for a weapon, shouted "Gun!" 19 of the ensuing 41 shots struck Diallo, killing him instantly.
News reports of the event soon led to demands that charges be filed against the police. A change of venue to the state capital in Albany, was granted, where a predictably conservative jury recommended dropping all charges.
The other case, although equally shocking had a much happier outcome; primarily because the victim, although treated with equal disregard by NYC's "finest," survived his ordeal, collected a large settlement, and has continued to advocate on behalf of police reform. If there are any bright spots in this narrative, they have to do with Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant who also ran afoul of the NYPD 2 years before Diallo, but managed to survive. Clearly; in a tort liability case, a living victim the jury can identify with is worth a lot more in court than a dead one.
I just had occasion to learn of another case in the nearby town of Santa Rosa, one that could serve as a Rosetta Stone for the realities of modern American "Criminal Jusice" in the nation we're all so proud of. Our cops seem now able to gun down any citizen they have "probable cause" to think is carrying a firearm and represents a threat, even if he's an immature 13-year old Eighth grader carrying a toy gun down a sunny street on a school afternoon.