The trial of the four New York City police officers who shot Amadou Diallo is now being held in Albany. I work within walking distance of the courthouse, and will be covering the trial exclusively for The Hittman Chronicle. Not the actual trial, which you can watch yourself on Court TV, but the events and crowds surrounding it, especially the protesters and the police. Most of these observations will be made on my lunch hour, so don't expect this to be all that comprehensive. I'd like to post these articles quickly, so there won't be much in the way of graphics or fancy layouts. You can expect two or three updates a week, so bookmark this page and check back often.
If you don't enjoy these pages, you most certainly will not like The Hittman Chronicle.
January 31, 2000 - Jury selection began today. The protesters gathered in the park across the street from the courthouse. A green rubber snow fence surrounded the park, and additional barricades were set up in front of the courthouse. The Albany police were calm, confident and everywhere, guarding the entrances to the courthouse, the street in front of it and the parking lot behind it.
Nearly a dozen news vans and trucks from New York City TV stations lined State street, their satellite dishes all pointing in approximately the same direction. I was wondering where the local news trucks were until I went into the park. Channel Six, Ten, Thirteen and Fox all had prime positions on the other side of the park, within spitting distance of the protesters. But this was the first day, and no one was spitting yet.
The crowd in the park wasn't too large, but it wasn't embarrassingly small either. There was no sign of Pretty Al Sharpton, either in the park or in any of the many restaurants in downtown Albany. A few people were on the small stage, doing a good job of making impassioned speeches. The crowd was well behaved and was quiet with the exception of one "No justice, no peace" chant. I had missed the singing of "Amen," a song whose lyrics are
Two people were carrying signs saying "13 Million People in The Bronx Are Watching!" The population of the entire city of New York is less than eight million, with the Bronx contributing about 1.2 million to the total; evidently protesting does not require a math degree. Others were carrying signs that said, "We can serve! We're from the Bronx!" They left out "We've completely missed the point!"
Some folks, like me, appeared to be there out of curiosity, just milling around and checking out the crowd. Others were there for various causes, some only weakly related to the trial. One guy was selling a fifteen-dollar book listing 2,000 people who had been killed by law enforcement officers over the past ten years. He didn't have a book listing the cops that were killed in the line of duty.
A woman was selling the "Revolutionary Worker," a thin tabloid featuring a picture of convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal on the cover. The paper claims to be the "Voice of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA," but she still charged me a buck for it. (Their mailing address is Chicago's Merchandise Mart.) None of the articles were about Diallo, but a blue sheet of paper stapled inside contained a rant condemning the shooting, the New York cops, the move to Albany, the jury system, the New York authorities, the power structure, the judges, the LA cops who beat Rodney King, the Rodney King jury, and anyone else who crossed the writer's mind. The only people he praised where the rioters in LA, whose rampages destroyed most of the minority owned business in the area. "Our actions need to make it crystal clear that we're going to fight thru (sic) on this case until they convict those murdering pigs," the tract exclaimed. "And if they don't convict these pigs, we'll make them wish they had!" It ends with an all caps, bold face proclamation "JAIL AMADOU'S MURDERERS! THE CAPITALIST SYSTEM IS THE PROBLEM, REVOLUTION IS THE SOLUTION!" Who can argue with someone who believes the police behave better under a communist regime?
On the way into the park I was handed an invitation to a poetry reading at Mother Earth's Café. It's called "41 Shots, Poetry Against Police Brutally." I'll have to remember that approach if a cop ever starts shooting me. "Hold on a moment, officer. Before you shoot me again, let's share a little Robert Louis Stevenson." An hour later, as I was leaving the park, an enthusiastic young woman handed me another copy of the invitation. "Be sure to come," she said, "these poets are great!" The show features The Rebel Poets, as opposed to, I guess, The Accountant Poets.
February 1 - I had a couple of smart-ass questions ready for some of the characters I ran into yesterday, but they weren't there. The park was empty except for a canvas booth that sheltered a few reporters. An area between the park and courthouse had opened up for the media, and about thirty reporters and photographers were standing in it. There were a dozen cameras mounted on tripods, a few shoulder mounted cameras, and a couple of still photographers searching for the best angle.
City Hall, which sits next to the court house, has a bell tower, and someone was playing the bells. It had to be a human - no machine could have been programmed to do such a milquetoast job. The musician had all the talent of a jar of mayonnaise. Light mayonnaise.
The weather was about the same as yesterday's, so it wasn't the climate that was keeping people away. There were a few people, maybe ten or fifteen, who seemed to be there to protest. They were outside the media area, not in the park. Someone asked me if I was there to protest and offered me a sign. It was a simple 11 x 17 sheet of paper that said "To Protect and Serve, Not Kill." I consider that a reasonable sentiment so I took it, although there wasn't much opportunity or incentive to wave it even if I had wanted to.
A black man who looked about 50 took a sign too. He was disappointed by the lack of protesters. I told him about the crowd that was there the day before, and he said he had wanted to come then but couldn't get the day off from work. We talked for a few minutes and suddenly all of the cameras in the media area swung in the same direction. Two women were coming out of the courthouse.
They walked to the rack of microphones and announced that the jury selection was complete. All that remained was to select the alternate jurors. They described each of the jurors, including their race. One juror was a high school principal who said he was used to making unpopular decisions. One was a woman who had a daughter about Diallo's age. Another was a Korean war veteran. They quoted one lawyer as saying "The racial tension in this room is so thick you can cut it with a knife." Evidently he gets his quotes from "Trite Cliché Monthly." As they read their statements and tried to answer questions the bells got louder, sounding like a tone deaf child taking lessons from a elderly teacher with dead batteries in her hearing aid.
The trial starts tomorrow. Perhaps by then the protesters will be rested enough to show up.
| Jury Selection | The Trial Begins | The Prosecution Finishes | The Defense Begins | The Verdict |
© 2000 Dave Hitt
| The Hittman Chronicle |