You are a police officer patrolling a bad neighborhood at night with your three partners. As you walk down the block you see a man who matches the description of a rapist. On top of that, he is slowly backing into a vestibule while leering up and down the block. Doing what your job calls of you, you and your partners approach the man. You see him reach into his pocket and begin to pull something out that looks like a gun. Suddenly you realize that your life might very well be in danger. What’s the first thought that crosses your mind? “I don’t want to die.” So what do you do?
The same thing anyone else would do who thought his or her life was in danger: take out your gun and make sure as hell that you take him out before he kills you. And if you are one of the three other men and you see this happening what do you think? “I could be killed by this guy too,” so you open fire as well.
Does that sound unreasonable? Well, I’m sure most people would like to take the moral high ground and say they wouldn’t have opened fire right away. I personally don’t think anyone who says that knows what he is talking about. I doubt many of us have been faced with a situation in which we genuinely believe our lives to be in danger. I also believe that anyone who is put in such a situation would do whatever it takes to save his own life. It is a simple matter of self-preservation. And if you have a gun, I don’t think you are going to take one or two shots and hope for the best; no, you are going to unload a clip in the person because in a situation like that I know we would all rather be safe than sorry.
I am, of course, referring to the Diallo case, with which we should all be very familiar by now, due to the chalkings all over campus last week. It seems to me that in the uproar no one has stopped to see things from the perspective of the police officers. The only thing you hear, or read, is “One unarmed man dead, 41 shots.” Thank you for telling us what we already know. But stop and look at it from another perspective. As far as the police were concerned, Diallo had a gun and was about to shoot. Under that logic, one can’t blame them for shooting a man who ended up unarmed.
As for that wonderful number, 41, let me tell you something. Had they chosen to open fire on anyone, there would have been 41 bullets fired. Jon Kallay gives a great technical explanation of why in his op-ed piece in last week’s Record. From a more human perspective, see my earlier argument: if your life is in danger you would be an idiot not to make sure the threat is eliminated and that would probably mean emptying an entire clip.
Furthermore, it amazes me how many people talk about this case without knowing anything other than the fact that a black man is dead with 41 bullets. I heard one person say, “Well, they would have had to reload to shoot 41 times.” Let me tell you something: we don’t use six shooters anymore. Guns carry a lot more ammunition in a clip. Someone else wondered why the police didn’t shoot the gun out of his hand. They fired at his torso 41 times and only hit 19 times. Less than half at a big target. How could they possibly be accurate enough to shoot just his hand?
By now you are wondering what I’m getting at here. It’s simple: uninformed people are automatically blaming the police because it provides us with an easy solution. What no one wants to face is the fact that the officers cannot be found guilty for being scared of Amadou Diallo. And even worse: having them sent to jail would not change a thing. We shouldn’t be asking ourselves who is to blame because none of the men involved – neither the officers nor Diallo – is wrong. What we should be asking ourselves is what is to blame? Of all the chalkings I saw all over campus the only one I thought got to heart of the problem was: “Would this have happened if Diallo was white?” My answer: No.
I think we can all agree that the officers were quicker to suspect Diallo because he was indeed black. That is not to say, however, that it was a conscious decision on their part. This is why their incarceration would not be justice. Why should four men be held responsible for something our society has done? I would like to think, however, that we are living in a time when we will not make individuals for the sins of our society. That is who is to blame in this case.
But we don’t want to see that because it is a much harder problem to solve and less satisfying than throwing four men in jail; four men whose point of view we can easily ignore in an attempt to make them the bad guys.
This situation should not be a modern day witch-hunt. This should be a wakeup call to us all. If we don’t start to take steps towards eliminating the racism that has made a home in our subconscious, things like this will continue to happen. Men will die, people will be persecuted in hopes of solving our problems and then the cycle will continue. Let’s stop finding scapegoats and get to the real roots of our problem. Only then will Diallo’s death not be in vain and will justice truly be served.