Mayor Giuliani and Unarmed Black Men

by Jonathan Wallace

How embarrassing for Mayor Giuliani that his police just can't stop killing unarmed black men. The other day, after the killing of a Manhattan security guard outside a downtown bar, the second such killing since the Diallo verdict, the mayor appeared on television with that familiar pained crease in his forehead, as if to say: Why is this happening to me?

I have some advice for Mr. Giuliani. Since this keeps happening, you cannot continue to prevaricate, call for calm, and ask people to support the police. These repeated killings are forcing you off center and you must, if you are not to appear weak, take one of the following two "polar" positions:

1. This is really fine; in order for the rest of us to have the security we desire, the police have to kill a certain number of unarmed black men, so we might as well settle down and stop shouting about it.

Please note that this is the argument, made in somewhat different (and heavily encoded) words by the police themselves. After the Diallo shooting, police sources complained that arrests went down and that cops were doing their jobs more tentatively, out of fear of criticism if they accidentally shoot an innocent man!

2. Something is very wrong here and it has to stop. I do not think we will soon hear a statement like this from the mayor, who is a resolute apologist for police violence. The cops, after all, are his power base.

But looking at the most recent shooting, it is the same thing again. A security guard, Patrick Dorismond, who patrols a downtown shopping mall and has excellent relations with the local cops, changes into street clothes and has a few beers with a buddy. Leaving the bar, he is approached by a stranger, whom he does not know is an undercover cop, who asks him for marijuana. Dorismond gets angry, and a couple of punches are thrown; witnesses claim the cop swung first, and the cops say the guard did. Last time I checked, it was not a capital offense anywhere in this country even to take a swing at a uniformed officer.

The cop's back-up, also in plainclothes, rushes in and a moment later the security guard is dying in the street. Did he go for the gun? Did he know his assailants were cops, or did he think he was being threatened by criminals? The same questions were disregarded by the jury in the Diallo case. But the lesson is the same: in this city, you can be going about your business, in a perfectly law abiding way, and end up shot to death by the police. And the mayor will stand up in front of the cameras, with a pained crease in his forehead, thinking: How exasperating for me.

The question of probable cause comes up here. Under the Fourth and Fifth amendments to our constitution, the cops must have probable cause to investigate you: they must observe criminal behavior or have a reliable report that a crime has been committed or is in progress. But all Amadou Diallo did was stand on his own doorstep looking nervously at a car full of armed white men, and all Dorismond did was walk out of a bar. While black. Black people joke biitterly about the offense of driving while black, walking while black, standing while black.

Rudy Giuliani does not want to be senator: he wants to be president. It is crucial to stop him, cut him off at the pass, because a man who tolerates police violence will, in the bigger sandbox that is the presidency, tolerate military and intelligence human rights violations. And therefore create an atmosphere in which they occur. Please cast your vote against him now so you will not have to do it later.