Deadly Safety

Like most recent arrivals in America, all Amadu Diallo wanted was a chance at a better life. He came to New York from West Africa and quickly earned a reputation as a friendly and hard-working young man. But last month Diallo died in a hail of bullets—and his death is a sobering reminder of the price Americans are paying to feel safe. The tragedy began when New York police answered a call to help another cop. After making sure that their fellow officer was okay, the policemen drove down a nearby street. There they spotted Diallo, a 22-year-old street vendor, standing near his apartment building. The cops walked toward the building, identified themselves, and shouted some commands at Diallo. What happened next is not entirely clear, but everyone agrees that the officers opened fire on Diallo and shot at him 41 times, hitting him 19 times. The barrage was so fierce that Diallo's body was literally pinned to the wall by the bullets. The officers claimed that they thought Diallo was reaching for a gun, although it turned out the only things he carried were his keys and a beeper. The shooting ignited a storm of protest from New York's black community, which sees the shooting of Diallo, who had no criminal record, as confirmation that the war on crime is being fought at the expense of the civil rights of black citizens. This overzealousness by the police is just one more example of New York's determination to make its citizens safer. For example, the city's crackdown on drunk drivers is so tough that if you lend your car to a friend, and he's arrested for drunk driving, the cops keep your car. But the Diallo case is especially chilling. Has our desire for safety led us to take measures more in line with a police state than a free society? This brings to mind something I call "Colson's Law." When the inner restraints of citizens are gone, external restraints have to increase to fill the void. And that's when it gets dangerous—as Diallo discovered. Yet, as black leaders rightly point out, most whites, including Christians, seem indifferent. Few have spoken out. Apparently, with the Dow at 10,000 and the streets safer, we're comfortable about life. Nothing bothers us. We look the other way during White House scandals and the shooting of innocent immigrants. But this is exactly how fascism starts. People want safety and order, and they'll give up liberty to get it. Mussolini promised to make the trains run on time; Hitler said that he would keep the streets safe. Both men were initially hugely popular—just before they began taking away citizens' rights. Well, I for one am deeply convicted—both by the Diallo case and the seeming public indifference to his death. In fact, I'm horrified by it. This is not an issue just for the black community but for all of us—and especially for Christians, who ought to be the conscience of society. Now, I know that police sometimes overreact under pressure; they are only human. But we cannot excuse or accept such a clear case of police brutality or we will be equally guilty. If we do not demand justice, we will see everyone's liberty erode. And then one day soon it may be your car that is seized… or your innocent child who pays the horrendous price for "safety."


Chuck Colson



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