The Chief

December 10, 1999

PBA Blisters ACLU Over Ad on Diallo

By William Van Auken

A full-page advertisement using the death of Amadou Diallo for an American Civil Liberties Union fund-raising pitch aroused the ire of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association and attorneys representing four Street Crime Unit cops who are facing a murder trial next month in connection with the February shooting.

"I question why the ACLU, which supposedly stands up for the rights of people, would try and deny four New York City Police Officers their Fifth Amendment right to a fair trial and would rather try them in the press," said PBA president Patrick J. Lynch.

Bullets for Miranda

The ad, which took up the back page of the nationally distributed Week in Review section of The Sunday New York Times Nov. 28, placed the well-known words of the Miranda warning beneath jagged bullet holes. Underneath was written: "On February 4th, 1999, the NYPD gave Amadou Diallo the right to remain silent. And they did it without ever saying a word." Citing the 41 bullets fired in the incident, the ad stated, "Also wounded was the Constitutional right of every American to due process of law."

The ad, the police union charged, called into question that very Constitutional right in relation to the four cops facing trial in The Bronx.

"Isn't the ACLU supposed to stand up for the rights of citizens who are wrongfully accused to have their day in court?" asked the PBA president. "Are my members less citizens than anyone else?"

Mr. Lynch accused the civil liberties group of exploiting the Diallo shooting as a fund-raising device. "They're trying to do it on the shoulders of New York City Police Officers," the PBA leader said. He expressed concern that such an effort threatened the right of the four officers to an untainted jury pool.

"I'm absolutely confident that if politics is taken out of this, and these officers are judged on the facts of the case, they will be acquitted," said Mr. Lynch.

The attorney for Sean Carroll, one of the four accused cops, also lashed out at the ACLU ad. "It's outrageous," said Burton B. Roberts, the former Administrative Judge for Bronx Supreme Court. "They will see to it that the rights of Nazis to march in Skokie, Ill. are preserved, but the four patrolmen who in the course of performing their duties made an honest mistake don't have the right to a fair trial?"

ACLU Doubts Impact

"I don't think that an ad like this, five weeks beforehand, can seriously be said to endanger their right to a fair trial," answered American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Ira Glasser. He said that the ACLU holds that police officers have the same Constitutional rights as anyone else.

"We cannot be in a position of putting a moratorium on talking about the Diallo killing because of the trial," he said. He pointed out that The New York Times had written three articles the same week that the ad appeared, "all referring to the shooting in almost identical terms."

"The question of whether it was a criminal matter is for the trial to determine," Mr. Glasser continued. "But, presume that a jury concludes it was just a case of panic, and they made 'a tragic mistake,' as Mr. Lynch calls it; it's still a problem."

Mr. Glasser said that the ad was part of a series run by the ACLU dealing with issues ranging from creationism to free speech and was designed for educational purposes, not to raise funds for the organization.

"It calls attention in a graphic and powerful way to the unspeakable result that a young man is gunned down for no justifiable reason in the lobby of his own building," he said. The ACLU leader added that he believes the killing was the result of police seeing themselves as "an occupying army in a foreign land," and perceiving members of racial minorities as "inherently dangerous."

New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Norman Seigel, meanwhile, sidestepped questions regarding his feelings about the ad, saying that it had been taken out by the national office and not the New York branch.