I am writing as an angry black man who wants to address the complacency and indifference that he witnesses on this campus. Last Friday, four white New York City police officers were acquitted on charges of killing Amadou Diallo, an unarmed West African immigrant. Forty-one bullets were fired. Although police testimony states that Diallo was "stopped and questioned" before the bullets were shot, neighborhood witnesses report that they heard no such conversation. And, as The Washington Post reported from the coroner's autopsy, "Diallo was hit by a crippling, spine-splitting shot in the chest 'early on' [and] most of the other bullets struck him as he was either falling or flat on his back." It turns out that the officers mistook a black wallet for a gun. The Post also reported that the accused officers were "part of a unit of plainclothes officers who are accused of frisking young black men without cause." Presidential candidate Bill Bradley addressed the situation succinctly: "A wallet in the hand of a white man is a wallet, while a wallet in the hand of a black man is a gun." To me, the Diallo case is symptomatic of the racism that plagues our society. What angers me is that this racism permeates all levels, including institutions of higher learning such as this one. One of my acquaintances spoke at the Call to Action 2000 rally in defense of affirmative action and has since received threatening e-mails. One expresses a hope that he "die before graduation" and another suggests that there are minority students at this school who are not qualified to be here. It is evident to me that, contrary to popular belief, racism is not only perpetuated by Klan members or hot-headed police officers. It is perpetuated by our acceptance of the status quo, by our apathy. It is perpetuated by our peers. This University is a haven for those of us in pursuit of intellectual excellence and professionalism, but we remain uninformed and sheltered. We debate and we theorize, yet we are afraid to walk beyond 43rd Street after 6 p.m. We disagree about the need for affirmative action programs and condemn "self-segregation" on campus, but every night and weekend we surround ourselves with the comfort of our circles of friends. The fact of the matter is that the people who should participate in these discussions do not. It is interesting that those who are adamantly critical of the self-segregation they perceive on campus avoid the Greenfield Intercultural Center and DuBois College House. They also do not attend events hosted by the United Minorities Council, UMOJA, the Asian Pacific Student Coalition, the Latino Coalition or any of their constituent groups. All of these organizations open most of their events to the entire University in an effort to educate the larger community about their issues and cultures. But many of us will leave Penn as uninformed as when we arrived because we don't take advantage of these opportunities. We take for granted that we live in an environment of privilege and opportunity -- the same environment Amadou Diallo sought when he emigrated from Guinea. But Diallo lost his life needlessly, and his killers were acquitted. I am not asserting that the police officers went out that day with the intention of killing an unarmed black man. I am, however, pointing out that there is inherent racism in a system that was created without everyone in mind, where the police force does not represent the population it serves. Whether intended or not, a man lies dead, with no justice. Yet, we still sit here idle? This is my appeal for you to get involved politically, academically or socially -- I don't care how. Please, challenge what you know.Comments powered by Disqus
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