In any academic conversation there is room to raise questions, disagree, and debate as long as it’s done respectfully, and you try to remain as informed and open as possible. Although Blink has often been identified as a “good conversation starter” in previous posts, it is interesting how much agreement there has been about the various topics and examples. With that in mind, I would like to revisit one of the more complicated and possibly more divisive examples in the book covered in Chapter 6: the shooting of Amadou Diallo.
I remember clearly when this incident happened; perhaps I remember it so well because I’m from New York or maybe because in 1999 when it occurred, I, like Diallo, was twenty-two. I would graduate from college that year and was very involved in social justice and racial justice as I still am today. I remember when Bruce Springsteen first performed his song “American Skin- 41 Shots” in honor of Diallo and how controversial it was, even prompting a proposed boycott of his concerts and music by police officers and criticism from then mayor Rudy Giuliani. The following are links to the full lyrics from the Official Bruce Springsteen Website and a video clip of Springsteen performing the song in New York City in 2000:
Now, looking back more than ten years later, the incident seems much more complex than I had originally perceived it to be. I can see Gladwell’s point when he states the shooting “falls into a kind of gray area, the middle ground between deliberate and accidental” (197).
There are certain things that might make this example more divisive than others:
1.) The situation regardless of whether you see it as an accident, an example of poor decision making, or a racially charged murder led to an innocent man losing his life. A loss of life, rightfully so, brings up emotion that makes it difficult for someone evaluating the police officers’ actions to be objective.
2.) Diallo was black and an immigrant.
3.) Police officers hold a position of power. When a person in power makes a bad decision the consequences tend to be greater, so they tend to be held to a higher standard.
4.) There is also a lot of context one must consider when evaluating this example of decision-making. It’s almost impossible to look at the example alone without considering different scenarios that could have played out and past history. A police officer or officers encountering a suspicious person, acting suspiciously, in an area where a lot of crime occurs, and that person actually turning out to have a weapon or be engaging in some kind of illegal activity, is certainly not unprecedented. A very recent case, occurring only last week on August 2nd, involved the death of two police officers from Rapid City, South Dakota, Nick Armstrong and J. Ryan McCandless. The scenario played out somewhat similarly to the Diallo case, at least in the beginning, when Officer Armstrong, Officer McCandless, and another officer approached and questioned four suspicious subjects at an intersection when one of the subjects pulled out a concealed gun and shot all three officers with only one surviving.
What is your take on the Diallo shooting itself and/or Gladwell’s choice to include it in a book about decision making?