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  •   Ex-Senator Avoids Blaming N.Y. Police

    Bill Bradley in NYC
    At Cooper Union College in New York Tuesday, Bill Bradley declared racial unity "the defining moral issue of our time." (AP)
    By Thomas B. Edsall
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Wednesday, April 21, 1999; Page A8

    NEW YORK, April 20 – Democratic presidential candidate Bill Bradley today stepped into the racial battle dominating this city over the shooting of an African immigrant by four white policeman to issue a call "to vanquish racial discord from our hearts and spirit."

    Speaking before an audience of about 200 at The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, the three-term former New Jersey senator and Knicks basketball star carefully avoided placing specific blame for the killing of Amadou Diallo, 22, an unarmed street peddler who was hit by 19 of the 41 bullets fired at him.

    "This tragic event in most ways was different from the church burnings of 1994 or the James Byrd murder of last summer," Bradley said, referring to a black Texas man dragged behind a car. "It was not an act of senseless hatred. It cannot be dismissed as an act of aberrant individuals. Rather, it was a grievous error by those charged with protecting the very person that they shot and in that sense it tells a story about all of us."

    Bradley, who repeatedly raised the issue of race during the early 1990s, including a strong speech about the police beating of Rodney G. King in Los Angeles, has said that his campaign will be driven by such mega-issues as race, child poverty and health care for all.

    Today's speech is part of Bradley's attempt to contrast himself to the small-bore policies of the Clinton-Gore administration.

    Bradley, whose presidential bid is geared to mobilize core support among traditional Democratic constituencies in the cities, among minorities and in organized labor, said that for him, "the question of racial unity remains the defining moral issue of our time."

    Bradley noted how race has been part of his experience. He recalled wincing at racist remarks uttered by an aunt and feeling uncomfortable about the attention he received as a white basketball star.

    Bradley also noted that he was a Senate page at the time of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But he played down the importance of new laws or policies. "The task for those of us who want better racial understanding" is not the same as it was during the civil rights movement of the 1960s or the fight for affirmative action in the 1980s, Bradley said. "It is to vanquish racial discord from our hearts and spirit."

    "If I'm president," Bradley said, "one of the things you better show is how in your department or agency you've furthered tolerance and racial understanding."

    The problem of race in America, Bradley said, lies more in "the divisions of the heart than of the law. . . . [The law] cannot generate forgiveness or lessen hate. It cannot bury the old stereotypes and prevent new ones from taking root. It cannot force people to see beyond the material events of a day to the deeper meaning of spiritual renewal through brotherhood."

    Bradley did not mention President Clinton or Vice President Gore, his opponent for the Democratic nomination, but he did refer to "the pain on the faces of Asian Americans stigmatized by the false suspicions in the 1996 presidential fund-raising scandals."

    Fred Siegel, a Cooper Union history professor from the integrated community of Flatbush, said he agreed with virtually everything Bradley said, but was disappointed that he did not tackle the tough racial questions. "The candidate had an opportunity to address serious issues in a concrete way . . . He [did not] deal with complexity and what I heard here was banality."

    But Harvard professor and author Cornell West, who introduced Bradley, called the speech "a wonderful articulation of a vision: How do you link the issue of race with the common good and the public interest, how do you transcend a lot of the narrow dialogue that somehow ghettoizes the issue."

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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