Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

SPEAKING OF EDUCATION: Terrible Tragedy, Teachable Moment

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

SPEAKING OF EDUCATION: Terrible Tragedy, Teachable Moment

Article excerpt

SPEAKING OF EDUCATION: Terrible Tragedy, Teachable Moment


While it is trite to describe the massacre of Amadou Diallo as a "teachable moment," the educator in me seeks to gain something from the tragic killing of an innocent Black man in the Bronx, New York, on February 4, 1999.

The "wilding" of the Special Crimes Task Force, their trial and acquittal, are all alarming to those who do not know or understand history. To those who were once repelled that Byron de la Beckwith was able to breathe free air for 30 years after he killed Medgar Evers, this is nothing more than par for the course.

Unfortunately, Black life has been systematically devalued in White America. There are those who will chafe at this statement, interpreting it as the leftover rhetoric of an era past.

But the facts are the facts. There is Black life. It is devalued in an America that has a predominately White culture. It is as White as the acknowledged race of all of our presidents, as White as the photographs that illustrate our money. It is as White as our Senate, which has had just two African-American members and one Native-American member in this century. It is as White as our Federal Reserve Board, which has had two whole African-American members.

Black life has been devalued in White America. Historically. Systematically. Methodically.

Perhaps it began with a Constitution that counted us as fractional people. Certainly, the Dred Scott decision - in which the Supreme Court asserted that Black people had no rights that Whites were bound to respect - set a terrible tone.

The broken promise of 40 acres and a mule parallels the ugly reality of incorrectly convicted prisoners whose time served is never compensated. Those never convicted often quivered in the wake of a "just us" system that allowed Whites to take the lives and property of African Americans without consequence. The only thing new about the execution of Amadou Diallo is the expectation that his killers would pay something, anything. Perhaps not the price for murder, but certainly the price for reckless endangerment.

Some of us had hope because the jury was racially mixed. Perhaps we thought some of the African Americans had heard of jury nullification and were willing to ignore the very biased instructions that came from the trial judge. Instead of jury nullification, though, we got Negro syncopation, which is historically consistent with the African-American collaborators who would steal our dreams and stomp out our joy.

In Pascagoula, Miss. …

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