Forty-one shots, 19 wounds, 24 ''not guilties.''
Blam! Not guilty.
Blam! Not guilty.
For every bullet that pierced Amadou Diallo, there was a ''not guilty'' written on it, and five left in the chamber. Diallo's body is deep under Guinean soil. His four killer cops have been unleashed back to the streets of New York. America was left staggering, riddled in the vestibules of justice.
The acquittal of the white officers in the massacre of the black Diallo was almost inevitable. The prosecution had made an acquittal a likely possibility from the start, going all the way for murder when the cops were saying it was an accident. The verdict was virtually sealed when Judge Joseph Teresi gave strict instructions that played to the tears of the cops. The jury was essentially reminded that the police have a right to shoot if they honestly felt the object Diallo pulled out of his pants was a gun instead of the now famous black wallet.
The right to shoot was made clear even though it could not have possibly been clear to Diallo that the four men, exploding upon him out of an unmarked car and in street clothes, were indeed cops and not muggers. The cop's right to react to fear obliterated any consideration why they went nuts with 41 shots. These rights were so deeply imprinted on the jury that John Patten, one of the defense attorneys for the officers, said, ''the 41 shots dropped out of the case.''
Forty-one shots, 19 wounds. BlamBlamBlamBlamBlamBlam! Yet, in the jury deliberations, the shots did not exist. The acquittals on all 24 charges - six for each officer - even of reckless endangerment, said the police can fire without thought and without conscience. They can fire without any obligation to challenge their perceptions of Diallo, not only in the vestibule of his apartment, but in the very first moment they decided to chase him. The verdict said that cops can fire at will even if their perceptions led them down a blind path.
Justice in this trial was blind to any other consideration. What remains is whether America will solve the riddle of the blind path. It is a national question because this is more than just police tactics. It is more than telling black folks to keep their hands out of their pockets when confronted by the cops.
America killed Amadou Diallo, with a barrage of our perceptions that led the officers to assume that a hard-working black street merchant could be a hardened black criminal.
Why did the cops think that Diallo, who was on the stoop of his building after midnight, looked like a serial rapist instead of a guy just trying to get some fresh air after one of his 12-hour work days? Was it the same reason that 1988 presidential candidate George Bush used a black rapist to symbolize crime?
Sean Carroll, one of the four officers, said it never entered his mind that Diallo might have been a resident in the building. He never stopped to think that Diallo had a right be on that stoop. Why was that? Was it the same reason that innocent black folks are being pulled over on highways for drug searches? Was it the same reason that nearly every black person who frequently hails cabs can tell stories about being passed up?
Why was it, ultimately, that when Diallo pulled that wallet out of his pocket that the cops thought ''gun!!!'' instead of wallet? Was it because of all the disproportionate media coverage of crime committed by black assailants? Was it because of the all the television and newspaper coverage of violence that has convinced Americans, even in an era of dropping murder rates, that the streets are meaner than ever?
Why was it that, after the first few shots, the cops could not realize Diallo was not firing back? Even though Diallo was a mere 5 feet 6 inches and 150 pounds, did the centuries of stereotypes, still reinforced by network news, Hollywood, and our politics, go from the big screen into that squad car and then into that vestibule, turning this gentle man into a monster?
In their tearful, yet arrogant testimony, the officers blamed Diallo for making the fatal ''error'' in reaching into his pocket. Right. A skinny guy is going to whip out a palm-sized pistol and waste four armed men? More likely, Diallo saw himself being ambushed by four armed bruisers in street clothes and wanted to say, ''Please! Take my wallet! Just let me live!
Instead, the police took Diallo's life and riddled the heart of justice. This will not change unless America stops sending the message that a dark man, by definition, is a dangerous man. Nothing will change unless this nation stops poisoning police officers until they are blind to Diallo's innocence.
Blam! Not guilty. Forty-one shots, 19 wounds, 24 ''not guilties.'' For every puncture of Amadou Diallo, there was a ''not guilty'' verdict, and five left in the chamber. Over what dead, dark body will the next jury fire those unspent verdicts?
Derrick Z. Jackson is a Globe columnist.