Labor Notes, April 2000
Legal Aid Union Defends Protesters Arrested After Cops Are Acquitted
by Michael Letwin
President, Association of Legal Aid Attorneys/UAW Local 2325
Shock and outrage has greeted the February 25 acquittal of four white police officers on trial for the murder of Amadou Diallo. Diallo was unarmed when he died in a hail of 41 police bullets while entering his Bronx apartment building on February 4, 1999. The police testified that they acted in self-defense after having mistaken his wallet for a gun.
Like the videotaped beating of Rodney King in the early 1990s the killing of Diallo, a 22-year-old Guinean immigrant, has become an international symbol of systematic racism and police abuse in the United States.
The evening of the Diallo verdicts, a spontaneous community demonstration broke out in Diallo’s neighborhood. The next day, midtown Manhattan was the site of a protest by some 5,000 people, nearly 100 of whom were arrested. The day after that, thousands more demonstrated at the United Nations.
Although many Diallo demonstrators are union members, organized labor’s participation in the Diallo protests has been uneven. 1199 National Health and Hospital Employees Union/SEIU—whose members are overwhelmingly people of color—was notably visible in protests last year which led to the trial. Also deeply involved was the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys/UAW Local 2325, whose 800 members represent 300,000 indigent New Yorkers each year in criminal, juvenile, and civil proceedings.
Although labor participation has been sparser this year, ALAA has continued to help organize demonstrations, provide legal representation during and after protests, and publish a Diallo Report on the Internet < LegalAidAorneysBulIetin-subscribe@topicacom >
ALAA has argued that Diallo’s death reflects the criminal justice system’s organized hostility to young people of color, as reflected in routine police abuse, unfair trials, Draconian drug laws, and the death penalty. It has also argued that labor has a common interest in uniting with movements opposed to Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s attack on legal and constitutional rights, as witnessed curing the transit workers’ contract negotiations last December.