Convicting police who kill will keep peace

The New York City police officers responsible for the shooting death of Amadou Diallo have been formally charged with intentionally murdering him.
Each of the four officers pleaded not guilty to two counts of second-degree murder and one count of reckless endangerment.
If the nation wants to avoid a wave of protests emanating from the East Coast instead of the West Coast, justice had better be served for Diallo’s murder.
After the Feb. 4 shooting, the four officers were suspended without pay for 30 days, and their special crimes unit was ordered to wear uniforms instead of plainclothes. Also, 50 positions in the predominantly white unit have been re-assigned to minorities.
These measures are but mere Band-Aids covering a gaping wound in New York and national race relations.
No plausible excuse has been offered to the public for Diallo’s murder or the 41 shots fired at him. The officers contend that Diallo had a gun and they feared for their lives. During the confrontation with Diallo, one of the officers slipped, perhaps prompting the deluge of lead that killed Diallo on the spot.
There is no justification for the intentional murder of anyone, by anyone. The officers clearly did not intend to halt or arrest Diallo, who they thought was a possible rapist: Diallo’s body was riddled with 19 bullets.
When police officers immediately resort to deadly violence in the pursuit of criminals, we are but a hair’s breadth from a police state in our urban areas.
America should have learned a lesson in 1992 when two Los Angeles police officers were acquitted in the Rodney King case. Even a videotape of the beatings was insufficient to convince an all-white jury that the officers were out of line.
Unfortunately for the New York City officers, Diallo does not have a criminal record as King did, and he was not the rapist for whom they were looking. The media can therefore not focus on a black man’s record. They must instead look at the facts: Diallo was murdered by police officers.
The riots that swept the nation in 1992 will likely be re-enacted if the New York justice system acquits these officers. The justice system has shown itself to be flawed, especially in cases concerning minorities. Americans, regardless of race, deserve fair treatment within the courts. This includes seeking justice for mistreatment by representatives of the government. An acquittal will be more than adequate cause for outrage on the part of urban communities and indeed all Americans.
The courts are being tested, and the nation is watching. If the United States shows it is incapable of learning the lesson of justice taught on the streets of Los Angeles and elsewhere, then urban America will rise up again, and the consequences may be much worse than those of 1992.