The Upcoming Trial of Imam Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin in light of the unjust verdict in the Amadou Diallo Case

That justice is a blind goddess is a thing to which we blacks are wise; her bandage hides two festering sores, which once, perhaps, were eyes. – a poem called “Justice,” by Langston Hughes

A Snapshot of the Amadou Diallo Case

On February 4, 1999, an unarmed, law abiding West African immigrant (who also happened to be a committed young Muslim) by the name of Amadou Diallo, became the victim of a senseless police homicide in New York City. A clear case of racial profiling that went terribly awry, the death of Amadou Diallo would go on to galvanize national attention around the issue of police brutality in America, and the need for reform, like no other case has done before, or since.

Despite all of the attention, however, it was this commentator’s opinion before the completion of opening arguments in the trial of the four officers charged with his wrongful death, that the odds were stacked against a successful prosecution of the case from the start. (This opinion was based upon both observation and experience.) The odds of an unsuccessful prosecution were greatly magnified by the absence of an independent prosecutor, and secondly, by well meaning but critical mistakes made on the part of Diallo supporters.

The Judge’s decision to move the trial from New York City to Albany, New York, insured the seating of a jury (irrespective of its racial makeup) that would be biased in favor of the officers on trial. It was also my view that a local prosecutor – as opposed to an independent prosecutor – would almost insure a less than vigorous prosecution, because of the relationship between police and prosecutors that strikes many observers as being a conflict of interest in such cases.

Next we had the errors in judgement made by the States Attorney Office in the case, beginning with the official charges themselves. Second degree murder should never have been on the table in the first place. When the prosecutor requested the inclusion of lessor charges for the jury’s consideration, midway into the trial, I believe this fertilized the seed of doubt that was already planted into the minds of the jurors (surely Allah know best). And while the issue of race loomed over the entire case like a pink elephant from beginning to end, the prosecution assiduously avoided it like the plague.

As for the supporters of the Diallo family, I sincerely believe that a critical mistake was made in deciding to hold inflammatory protest rallies outside the courthouse in Albany. This was not a sequestered jury. To hold rallies, from which one could hear some of the most extreme and emotional rhetoric, could only serve to reinforce a bunker mentality among the jurors, many of whom, no doubt, already identified with the officers on trial. I believe a far more effective demonstration would have been a consistent mass presence of silent, disciplined observers at the proceedings. The collective heart of the supporters may have been in the right place, but the strategy crafted by organizers of the demonstrations was terribly wrong.

The connection with Imam Jamil

You may be wondering how the Diallo case, specifically the trial of the four officers, relates to the case of Imam Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin. Allow me to explain. In America, every defendant in a criminal proceeding is supposed to be constitutionally entitled to a “presumption of innocence” until proven guilt in a court of law. Objective observers of American jurisprudence are aware, however, that actual practice does not always harmonize with egalitarian theory; that when it applies to the racially and economically disenfranchised in America, an inverse principle is often the rule: guilty until proven innocent. This is even more prevalent in highly politicized cases involving men (and sometimes women) with personal histories similar to that of Imam Jamil. And I should note that we have already seen indications of this by how his case has heretofore been reported in the mainstream media.

Jury selection is expected to begin on or about September 12th (2001), and if things go according to plan, the trial itself is expected to start in early October. The nature of Imam Jamil’s case is that the government (in particular, the law enforcement apparatus in the US) is going to have to be placed on trial. You heard it right. The same apparatus that the majority of people in this country identify with, and rely upon, is going to have to be placed under close, deliberate scrutiny by Imam Jamil’s defense attorney(s). A tall order indeed, but doable. In order to facilitate this, however, his defense team will need our disciplined support in the court of public opinion. As the late Bill Kunstler once correctly observed: “Political cases cannot be won on legalities [alone].”

In order for us to collectively do the most good for Imam Jamil, we must simultaneously work to repair the deformed image of Islam and Muslims in the collective mind of a largely misinformed American public. We must be disciplined and focussed in the national initiative scheduled for September 14-15 in Atlanta, Georgia; and we must remain disciplined and focussed throughout the trial that will subsequently follow, insha’Allah. We cannot afford to repeat the mistakes that were made in the Diallo case! Allow me to digress for a moment in order to illustrate my point on the type of discipline that will be needed in the days ahead.

One of the most riviting scenes in the Spike Lee movie on shaheed El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (aka, Malcolm X), was when in the aftermath of a brutal police assault on one of the brothers, Malcolm, accompanied by a phalanx of FOI, assembled in a very visible and disciplined way – first around the police precinct where the critically injured brother was being held, and later in front of the hospital where he was subsequently taken for medical treatment. The assembly itself, and the subsequent march from the police station to the hospital in disciplined, military formation – dutifully reenacted by the director of the film – epitomized the expression: “Walk softly, but carry a big stick.” It evoked a controlled power that had never been seen in the black community before that incident; and it had a galvanizing and liberating effect on the collective psyche of that oppressed, minority community (an impact that was felt for a long time after).

Allah Ta’ala instructs us in the Qur’an to, “Invite all to the way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching, and argue in ways that are best.” This is the prescription we must follow for success with the national demonstration on Saturday, September 15th (and any subsequent rallies that we will hold, insha’Allah, during the course of the trial itself). We must speak truth to power, but in a manner that will enable the masses of people to hear, really hear, what we’re saying. This is an opportunity for us to educate a large number of people on the case of Imam Jamil, on the myriad of justice related issues impacting American society, and on the deen of Islam itself. Most of all, we have an opportunity to positively impact the minds of prospective jurors in this particular case, and this is what we must endeavor to do.

Our Muslim speakers must strive to avoid the kind of red hot, inflammatory and counter-productive rhetoric that will only serve to reinforce the distorted image which has already been painted of Imam Jamil (and Muslims) by the mainstream media. Veiled or overt threats of violent repercussions if the verdict doesn’t go our way, will only serve to induce a bunker type mentality among the jurors. The most effective strategy that we could possibly mount in the court of public opinion, would be a reasoned argument concerning this case, and the equally important peripheral issues that surround it. We should place our most knowledgeable and capable warriors on the front line of this battle, and then trust in Allah.

In my conclusion, demonstrations in America provide a wonderful and much needed public forum for educating, expressing grievances, and effecting positive change. My own observations and experiences, however, are that most demonstrations are dominated by either one of two tendencies: either by angry passions of the mob, which can deflect attention from the core issues at hand; or by the underlying self-interest of a few, which can compromise the integrity of a demonstration, and prevent the organizers from effectively speaking truth to power.

In all of our endeavors, the followers of Prophet Mohammed (saw) – the most revolutionary figure in human history – are called upon to follow the middle way. May ALLAH (swt) bless us to exemplify this in the days ahead – for Imam Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, and for the benefit of ourselves.