Under the Law
On February 4, 1999 Amadou Diallo, a 23 year old Guinean living in New York was killed by four NYPD Street Crime Unit officers. The police fired 41 shots, nineteen of them striking their target Diallo.
Today members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are questioning attorney general Gonzalez regarding the president's unwarranted and program of wiretapping outside the the authorization of the FISA law.
It's a stretch to link these two events together. One unsettling connection is too few Americans can little about either event. Timothy Lynch director of the Cato Insititute's Project on Criminal Justice wrote a briefing paper on the Diallo killing that raises solid arguments for the first principle of the right to be left alone. Surely it's not paranoia to be concerned about terrorism and to want to prevent terroristic actions. But it behooves us to be careful about the means we employ to this end. The tragic killing of Amadou Diallo is a cautionary tale for why we must carefully examine the means we employ against crime and terrorism.
A recent CNN article, U.N. adviser: West killing Africa with gun sales reports on remarks by Dennis McNamara, special UN advisor on internally displaced persons. McNamara is critical of world governments for callously neglecting the fate of more than 12.5 million displaced people in Africa. He also speaks about one of the great horror which small arms cause throughout the region:
Guns are at the heart of the problem ... There is one slogan I would like to suggest for 2006: No Arms Sales to Africa. Zero. Not an embargo, not a sanction, a voluntary cessation of all arms sales to Africa.One of the facts of the Diallo case was that when he reached for his wallet to show the police his identification the police thought he'd reached for a gun. I'm critical at times of police conduct, but police must act to assure their safety. I don't think the police acted with murderous intent, but the result was death nonetheless. The old chestnut: "Guns don't kill people, people do." understates the consequences of so many guns not just here in America, but world wide.
The kids on the streets of Nairobi, Khartoum, Abidjan and Monrovia have guns in their pockets or up their sleeves ... We provided the arms. We the West, we the G8," he added, referring to the Group of Eight industrialized nations.
It's not so easy to sort out what to do. The very personalities involved in dismantling Constitutional proctections against unwarranted searches are the same personalities who defend unfettered arms sales and pre-emptive wars of aggression. The solution they propose, it seems, is a mighty arms race and a presumption that American intersest will always prevail by the force of the gun. This adoration of violence as the solution to violence reeks of blood and death.
The award winning blog Wampum recently did a post about the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy (CREA. Something that pleased me was that finally in the discussion of the Abramhoff corruption probe, Interieor Secretary Gail Norton is finally placed firmly in the middle of the corruption.
What this has to do with gun sales to Africa, the Amadou Diallo killing, and the "right by any means" stance of the current American government is tenuous. The connection, I see is the hazards ordinary people face when we abandon priciples of restraint under the law.
Timothy Lynch writes:
The key difference between a free society and a totalitarian regime is the power of police agents. In a free society the police are governed by law, in a totalitarian regime the police are the law.The inquiry into the unwarranted wiretaps is important because our Constitutional protections under the Fourth Amendment. The Second Amendment secures a right to bear arms. What's clear from today's inquiry into the unwarranted wiretaps is that our government percieves a need to limit our rights to our security in our homes and our privacy. That's got me kicking and screaming. But by placing the issue of guns and Second Amendment issues next to it, I'm not so full of moral certainty. The very real dangers of gun violence make me conceed the importance of limits on rights. Throwing in Gail Norton and the horrible corruption of the Interior Department under her watch is a warning that un-checked government leads to corruption. Liberty requires balancing intersts.
I'm shocked that our elected representatives would not even require attorney general Gonzales to offer testimony under oath about such weighty matters as the right of people to be secure in their homes and effects. They were unwilling to assert the role of Congress as a check on the power of the Executive. Arlen Spector, in his inimitable condesending tone has told us as Americans: We've just kissed your rights goodbye. End discussion.
Let's not be so quick to stop talking. The dangers we face, indeed the pressing reality of violence people face around the world, are pressing. We must not forget that violence at the hand of governments is a substantial cause not neatly sorted out from the broader issue of violence. When our representatives are supine while our rights are in question the result will be corruption and greater violence. Our voices must be raised.