This is America, home of the free. Here “law and order” is kept by a vigilant police force armed with semi-automatics and nightsticks. Here it is “law and order” to lynch blacks. Two-hundred years since this country was founded on principles of equality before the law, the meaning of equality remains the same. Amadou Diallo was equal to all other poor urban blacks, and he got his punishment by the law. His killers were equal to all other guardians of the white elite, and they got… acquited. The principle is well understood, invoking a strong Nazi-like patriotism in some.
It fills me with profound respect for being an American and for living in a country that has a trial by jury,” announced New York Mayor Giulani after the acquital of four police officers who fired 41 shots at Guinean immigrant Amadou Diallo as he stood outside his home in the Bronx. Giuliani, of course, clearly understands what it means to be “American. ” Liberal apologists who seek to explain the meaning of the shooting and the acquital are the ones who are missing the mark. Forty-one shots are not a mistake. The acquital was not just a flaw in the system.
This is the system, and it is one rooted in white male dominance and the rule of force. The system is working perfectly fine as long as cops stay out of prison and are free to use deadly force at will. “But the system is supposed to treat people equally,” some will say. Right-wingers eat this one up. They understand that equality, in any meaningful sense of the word, is not one of the tenents of American capitalism. Indeed, it is inequality which maintains the system. The majority must never enjoy the same rights and priveleges that the wealthy few do.
A police force, whose function is to protect property and those who own property, is needed to enforce minority rule. As guardians of property and the class structure, police must enjoy rights afforded only to the minority, including the right to kill. The need to protect property rights over all others had been realized well before the founding of the United States of America and finds expression in the Constitution. James Madison’s writings on the rights of minorities were speaking most often of “the minority of the opulent. ” Diallo was a “minority,” just not the right kind.
The Bronx is not known for its wealth. Its people are not the owners of property and can therefore only be a threat to those who are. Diallo was an “enemy” as soon as the cops saw him. The implications of all this are that there will continue to be Diallos and Louimas and Kings because a poor black can never be equal to a white cop. The system would no longer work. In life Amadou Diallo possesed only the right to obey. In death there is still no justice. The acquital of his killers seems to have effectively shown the NYPD, and surely other police, that killing civilians is acceptable.
Indeed, the murders are mounting in New York as Giuliani continues to push his aggressive policing policies and continues to shield his killer cops from justice. The lesson was learned long ago, however, and Amadou Diallo and Patrick Dorismond are only some of the more recent examples. It is a lesson that was taught in the days of plantation slavery and in the murders of Black Panthers in the 60’s and 70’s. It’s really quite simple: The rich and their guardians have the right to kill, the poor have the right to obey.