It was a typical New York conversation. Before I could shake my head no she'd read the blankness in my eyes and knew I hadn't heard.
"All four cops?not guilty."
I don't shock easily, but this staggered me. I could almost feel my legs buckling. I'd figured that Kenneth Boss and Richard Murphy would get off?they should never have been charged in the first place. But Edward McMellon and Sean Carroll, innocent?
The cop, off duty, looked around downtown Brooklyn and said, "All not guilty. And I'm getting out of here and going home."
I walked down the subway stairs. The white people passing me in my slow shuffle were putting a little hustle into their steps, scurrying for the 4 train pulling into the station.
No one was making eye contact on the train. Normal subway behavior?but there was a strange mix in the air, a feeling of dread, the sense that something bad was coming. This Diallo case is far from over. I'll go even money that the glory-dog federal prosecutor, Mary Jo White, will get her unconstitutional and politically correct hands on those four cops and try them again in the Southern District. Federal prosecutors don't worry too much about what is in effect double jeopardy.
And even if White restrains herself, Mayor Giuliani and Police Commissioner Howard Safir might well fire the cops after a departmental hearing, as a token sacrifice.
As for Safir, it was funny to see him on tv Friday night, standing up for his innocent boys. Funny, because he'd never bothered going up to Albany to show the four cops some support during the trial. Now that the clouds have cleared, though, there he is?full of contrition for the Diallo family and full of kind words for his four employees. Most of the cops I've talked with are bitter about Safir's ducking the Albany scene. His posturing now must seem hollow to the men and women who made the 150-mile trek north to support their fellow workers.
While I was up in Albany I met John Loud, the PBA's second vice president. Loud walked into the Albany courtroom one day with the air of someone in charge. He asked to look at my newspaper and I handed it over to him snappily, like I'd just run a light and he was demanding my license and registration. Loud's spent a lot of years telling people what to do, and expects them to listen. During a break I asked Loud for my paper back. He liked that I'd put him on the spot, so we fell into conversation.
Loud described a situation that he'd experienced once while he was off duty. It seems he'd witnessed two men throw a woman from a car, then jump into the vehicle and try to get away. Loud hadn't been carrying his gun, so he'd pulled out his wallet and held it like a gun as he yelled, "Police! Freeze!" The thugs jumped from the car with their hands up. Loud claimed the gambit worked because his wallet resembled a gun. But it seemed more plausible to me that Loud has a street presence and a booming voice, and the two thugs knew the jig was up.
Loud's conversation returned to me when John Patten?Sean Carroll's attorney and the man whom Ted Rall of the Village Voice and most of the daily tabloid writers were implying was low-rent and dumb?copied that stunt during his closing argument. He pulled out a pistol and a black wallet and showed the jury that they do look alike when held a certain way. I'd bet good money that Loud showed Patten that move.
After watching tv some more, I called my sister to make sure someone was checking in with my mother, who still lives in the Bronx. I went back to the tv, but got bored with the soundbites and the news crews' hustling as they tried to find a disturbance. Outside of Soundview, where there were demonstrations, the Bronx seemed quiet.
I went out for a walk on the Upper West Side around 9 p.m. The rain was over; it was a mild February night. A Friday night like this, and Columbus Ave. should be buzzing. But tonight you could have gotten an immediate table in any restaurant. The Upper West Side's whitefolk were locking themselves in. Maybe they were lighting new-age candles, hoping the Bronx didn't come down to pay them a visit.
Saturday afternoon I went to Manhattan's Grand Army Plaza to check out the demonstration. It was a gray, bland day. The crowd had already begun its long march down 5th Ave. to 41st St.?the destination was supposed to symbolize the number of bullets shot at Diallo. A white kid with a backwards baseball cap brought up the rear. He wore a marching drum around his neck and beat a solemn rhythm. About 200 stragglers stayed behind at the plaza. Twenty more people?mostly black?stood on the fountain with the statue of Penelope on top and held signs reading "Verdict?Black Life Is Meaningless." Tight-faced women with coifed blonde hair, wearing wraps, walked by them quickly, ignoring the whole thing. The Plaza Hotel's entrance was lined with red velvet ropes and extra security guards, who resembled Secret Service agents. Cops in hats and bats?riot gear?stood behind blue barricades on 5th Ave. They didn't bite at the insults hurled at them. About 75 more cops stood ready a block away under the brilliant gold statue of Gen. Sherman. The last of the protesters led a chant mocking the old Street Crime Unit motto:
"Who owns the night?"
"We own the night!"
A few held black wallets in their hands.
Across 59th St., through the windows of the Oak Room, you could see that the prosperous diners weren't missing a beat. And, in fact, beyond the rally at the UN on Sunday and march to City Hall, the city seemed back to normal. No riots. No major outbreaks.
But major civil disturbance usually needs hot weather to set it off. Give it time.