Blood Sport

Race Teams Face Off At the Diallo Trial

It seems to happen here, and everywhere else in America, every few months. Another black guy, innocent or not so innocent, gets offed by another white cop, by the book or after a look. It's not hard to see why: White cops and young urban blacks (or, to use the press euphemism, "youths") play the game of life by different, perfectly conflicting rules.

I first diagnosed this urban racial disparity in the Rodney King video. Sure, those L.A. cops were thugs. But as a white guy, the first thing I noticed was King moving around a lot, yelling, waving his arms, obviously talking shit. What was this guy thinking? Everyone knows cops carry a license to kill. And why didn't he just pull over when he saw the flashers in his rearview mirror? Of course the cops are pissed, and they set on him like jackals taking down a gazelle. It's not right, but it sure isn't surprising.

You can't live in New York without witnessing clashes between young black male civilians and only-slightly-less-young white cops, every one of them a possible tragedy from the start. City cops, who too often live in the 'burbs, underpaid and undertrained and nervous as hell, demand submissive respect—a commodity that helps reassure them that they're not about to get jacked. The black kids they deal with on the streets of the most urbanized territory in the nation, underemployed and cocky as hell, trade in the macho currency of aggressive refusal to recognize an authority they never chose. For fear of losing face, they can't afford not to swagger and talk trash to cops who just can't let it go. That's clearly what happened to Abner Louima, Rodney King, and the unarmed, homeless loudmouth I watched cops pound in the 103rd Street station a few years ago for jumping the turnstile.

illustration by ted rall

Which brings us back to former street vendor of possibly pirated videos Amadou Diallo (or as the medical examiner's report lists him, Ahmed Diallo), occupation now irrelevant. If Schrrie Elliott or whoever she is this week told the truth last Wednesday, Diallo never had the chance to provoke a foursome of dumbass cops carrying excessive firepower. He was murdered, like the (black—or does it matter?) guy said. Wherever Diallo is now, he doesn't have to worry about federal copyright law, getting laid, or sending money back to Mom. Coming to America didn't make him rich, but it sure got him famous.

Somebody should feel bad about what happened to Amadou, and maybe somebody does. Though they can't talk about it now, it's not much of a stretch to imagine the events of 2-4-99 12:44 AM EST entering the cops' dreams now and then. Amadou's mom must miss him terribly, though she looks oddly calm (smug?) on Sharpton's arm these days. But the fans of both teams—the whites and the blacks—certainly don't care about a shy Muslim guy who nobody would say deserved to die. To one side the shooting is an inconvenience, to the other an opportunity to bench four of the other team's star players.

Now everything's up to the ref—State Supreme Court judge Joseph Teresi—and his jury. Will this white guy rule for his own gene pool on a technicality? Or will he throw the game?

Research assistance: Josh Lefkowitz

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