'Today it's Diallo; tomorrow it's me'


ALBANY, N.Y. -- The warm-up act, those few dozen hardy Albany people who'd begun the chanting and sign-waving in Academy Park, had been milling around in the snow and the chill since early morning -- since the first filmy rays of sunlight had filtered through the winter clouds canopied over the Albany County Courthouse.

Then, about 9: 45 Monday morning, the first of the buses from New York City rolled up to the sidewalk on Washington Avenue, on the park's west side. The Rev. Al Sharpton's pros came through those bus doors and got down to business right away.

The chant started the moment they hit the sidewalk: "No justice, no peace. -- What do we want? Justice!"

"Where'd you come in from?" a big man in a black leather jacket and knit cap was asked as he moved through the slush toward the demonstration area that Albany cops had fenced off.

"Flatbush," he said. "That's East Flatbush, where all the best folks live."

"You're here for Amadou?"

"We're here for Diablo."

"That's Diallo," he was told.

"Well, we're here for justice. Don't matter what name justice got."

As they moved along the freshly shoveled pavement to the demonstration area in the park's northeastern corner, directly opposite the courthouse, the signs were unfurled like battle flags. "Today it's Diallo; Tomorrow It's Me." And "A Badge Does Not Justify Murder."

Inside the old courthouse, secure behind its steel barricades and its ring of Albany cops, Judge Joe Teresi was presiding over the selection of a jury to decide just what four New York City police officers were doing not quite a year ago when they pumped 19 bullets into an innocent, unarmed young man named Amadou Diallo. Was it murder, manslaughter or just a horrible mistake?

That will be up to the jury. The trial is expected to last three weeks, anyway, possibly a month. The demonstrators plan to be out in the snow every day with their signs and their distrust.

It won't be a jury to instill much faith in Mr. Sharpton's people. An appeals court decided that a fair jury could not be selected from 1.1 million mostly minority residents of the Bronx. So now the jury is being chosen in Albany County, 150 miles north of the Bronx line, from a population pool of fewer than 300,000 overwhelmingly white people -- whom the courts view as just naturally fairer, apparently.

By midday, Mr. Sharpton was at the microphone in Academy Park, the courthouse looming up behind him as the TV cameras whirred. He was urging several hundred people to stay calm. No violence, he was saying. We're here because 41 bullets fired at an unarmed man is violence enough. He was leading the demonstrators in musical prayer.

As snowflakes swirled earlier in the day, Alice Green had stood quietly in the park, taking it all in. A longtime Albany activist in matters like these, she warmly greeted a smallish, smiling man in an elegant overcoat. He was Bojana Jordan, born nearly seven decades ago in Transkei in southern Africa, a former diplomat and college professor. He carried a carved African walking stick. Bojana Jordan motioned to the falling snow.

"The gods of Africa are crying," he told Alice Green. "They are looking down on all this, and these are the tears they shed."

And well might they weep, too. This youthful corpse, this trial moved so far from home, this chanting, wounded, suspicious crowd in Academy Park.

Look at it all closely enough, and who wouldn't cry?

Dan Lynch is a columnist for the Albany Times Union.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad