I'll be in Albany Monday for a job interview, and was planning on stopping by the courthouse first to check out the situation and write another report. "Maybe I'll be lucky," I thought, "and will be there when the verdict is announced."
I wasn't lucky. The verdict was announced a few hours ago, and I wasn't there to witness the reaction of the people in the crowd. Everything I comment on in this report is based on the news reports I've just seen on TV.
Last night I went out for beer and cigars with a few friends, and we declared our own verdicts. I predicted two of the cops would be convicted of something, probably not murder, but at least criminally negligent homicide. The cop who shouted "gun" and then fired off sixteen rounds was certainly guilty of something - his misjudgment started the whole mess. I figured the other cop who emptied his gun would also be convicted of something. The two who limited themselves to four of five shots showed at least a little restraint, and I'd guessed they'd either get off completely, or be convicted of the most minor charge the jury had available.
I never expected they'd all get off scot-free.
There were only a few more protesters than normal, but all the restraint and somberness that had marked the protests I attended was gone. They were pissed. They shouted "Murder" while waving their wallets. Some were so angry they could hardly speak. Some said things that were just dumb: "It's like they dug him up and shot him again." Some made good points: "If you shot a dog 41 times you'd at least have to pay a fine or something." One protester, an older black man, made an observation that should scare any parent: "If these men can walk free then no young man or woman is safe from the police anywhere in this country." Who can argue with that in the light of this verdict?
Later, some of the protesters blocked off a street next to the Capital Building. The cops broke it up by arresting sixteen of them. The protesters walked to the paddy wagons without doing the "go limp and make them carry you" trick. While the cops escorted them the rest of the crowed waved their wallets and chanted "Don't shoot, don't shoot, don't shoot."
Quite a few of the faces that filled my TV screen were familiar. They were regulars I'd seen on my visits to the earlier protests. One man, a tall black man with a bullhorn slung over his shoulder, hadn't been at any of the protests I've visited, but is well known to those who eat lunch in downtown Albany. Once or twice a week he paces along a wall on Pearl Street, pontificating into his bullhorn about how the Whites and the Jews and the Police and the Jews and the Media which is owned by the Jews and the capitalist system and the Jews are all conspiring to keep The Black Man down. (Just who is The Black Man? I'd like to meet him some day. I'd also like to meet The American Family politicians keep yammering about.) Occasionally someone will approach him and give him grief, but most people either ignore him or openly laugh at him. Once he fell off the wall and got a round of applause and cheers. I can only guess how much this verdict has fed his paranoia.
Of course, it's not paranoia if they really are out to get you. Or even if they're not, but know they can shoot and kill you without worrying about the consequences. I watched enough of the trial to be convinced the cops weren't out to get anyone and it was an honest mistake. But would they have made the same mistake if it were a white guy in that vestibule? Did the mistake require two of them to empty their guns into Amadou?
About a decade ago, before the Internet was public and people used BBSs and commercial services to waste time on-line, I was a Sysop (system operator) on GEnie, a service similar to CompuServe. . Their forums were called Round Tables, and out of curiosity I wandered into A.L.E.R.T. (A Law Enforcement Round Table) and started asking questions. Why did you become a cop? Which cop shows do you enjoy watching, and which ones make you throw your shoes at the TV? How often do you use our gun? This answer to this question surprised me the most. 90% of all police officers never use their gun in their entire twenty-year career. 80% of them never even draw their weapon. Drawing a gun was considered an absolute last resort, to be avoided whenever possible. "If you have to draw your gun things have already gotten out of hand, and you're very, very close to losing control of the situation."
Three of the four officers on trial have shot suspects. Two of them have killed suspects. Admittedly, they are in a very high crime area. Admittedly, four cops is too small a sample for statistics to be accurate, and a ten-year-old conversation is hardly credible proof of any numbers. But something feels very wrong here. These men were simply too trigger happy, to quick to snuff out a life because they feared for their own, too quick to squeeze the trigger until the gun fired off every bullet it could.
I've watched this whole trial very closely, right from the beginning, and can find no fault with any part of it. The judge, a well-respected man with a reputation for fairness, kept the trial straightforward and on track. He didn't allow any nonsense or courtroom theatrics from either side. Each side was given ample opportunity to make their case, and they both did it well. The jury was well mixed, including blacks and whites and men and women and even three people who had ties to the Bronx. During their deliberations they asked for clarifications and transcript readings several times. They took their job seriously and carefully considered everything. It appears, at least from my vantage point, that this was a textbook example of the right way to run a fair trial.
And having said all that, and being certain that those are the facts, the verdict still strikes me as horribly wrong. Eight or ten or twelve bullets might have been understandable. Forty-one is inexcusable, especially considering at least three hit him while he was lying down. One went through the bottom of his foot! I don't know any answers to the myriad of questions this raises. I don't know what I would have done if I were on the jury. I know that my reaction at this moment, while I'm typing this, is far more emotional than logical. And I know for certain that something about this is just very, very wrong.
| Jury Selection | The Trial Begins | The Prosecution Rests | The Defense Begins |The Verdict |
© 2000 Dave Hitt
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