- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 6, 2001

Once again, the four New York City policemen who, late one February night in 1999, mistakenly shot and killed an unarmed man named Amadou Diallo, have been exonerated of criminal wrongdoing. After two police panels examined the surge of miscues and mishaps that spurred the officers to squeeze off a furious burst of gunfire that ended the life of the 22-year-old African immigrant, New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik announced that the four officers would not be disciplined.

In a bizarre twist said to be unique (and possibly illegal given the lack of any findings of misconduct), the commissioner also announced the officers would not be carrying their guns or wearing their badges in the foreseeable future. If that´s exoneration, one wonders what a misconduct finding would bring.

The officers were cleared, the department ruled, because they feared for their lives on that terrible night, and, therefore, acted within department guidelines for self-defense. That is, it was only after Diallo lay dead that the policemen, former members of the once-vaunted Street Crimes Unit, discovered that the "gun" the young man standing in a darkened Bronx doorway had whipped out of a pocket instead of following police orders to freeze was in reality just his wallet.

Last year, a jury acquitted the four officers of any crime and came to a similar conclusion: namely, that the Diallo shooting was a tragic mistake, not a crime. And in January, the Justice Department announced that it would not be pressing civil rights charges against the officers this despite the amplified efforts of such racial provocateurs as Al Sharpton, which were echoed by now-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton who, as a candidate, pronounced the shooting a "murder" in a pre-trial address to Mr. Sharpton´s supporters.

Even as the 26-month police investigation concludes, the Diallo case is hardly being laid to rest. Its emotional indeed, irrational power is proving irresistible for politicians now jockeying for supremacy in the upcoming New York mayoral election. Perhaps it is to be expected that Mr. Sharpton (seemingly appended to the side of Amadou Diallo´s mother Katiadou), would take the opportunity to blast the police department´s Diallo decision as "outrageous, insulting, offensive" after all, Mr. Sharpton´s last media moment was the Tawana Brawley hoax. But he is not alone. Three of the four declared mayoral candidates have also seen fit to denounce it, bringing themselves to a pitch of indignation at varying temperatures, ranging from calling it evidence "that the NYPD is incapable of policing itself" (Bronx borough president Fernando Ferrer), to saying it "raises some serious questions" (city comptroller Alan Hevesi). Mrs. Clinton has chimed in to say she, too, is "disappointed" by the decision.

At the risk of sounding simplistic, may we ask why? As New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani has put it, this case has been "investigated by everybody." A mixed-race jury (with a black foreman) acquitted the officers after a trial deemed "fair" by the lead prosecuting attorney, Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson. The Justice Department, no shrinking violet in these matters, obviously agreed. Why does the police department´s recent exoneration now become such political TNT?

Perhaps the words of Dennis M. Walcott, the president of the New York Urban League, will shed some light on this question. Explaining to the New York Times that the failure to penalize the officers could jeopardize "community relations," he added, "No matter whether you thought they were guilty or innocent, some discipline was required."

Guilty or innocent, some discipline was required? In this sentiment, there is an almost palpable lurch away from the line of law and logic to the chaotic force of emotionalism, which Mr. Walcott is by no means alone in expressing. Indeed, the police department itself, clearing the men even as it strips them of their guns and badges, has fallen prey to such illogic a dangerous state of affairs where reason is unable to prevail over emotion.


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