Albany, New York
30 May 2000
The Honourable Tom Constantine
Office of the Oversight Commissioner
Belfast, Northern Ireland
The same day the London Times broke the story of your Northern Ireland assignment, The New York Times carried a review of a concert at Carnegie Hall by another distinguished friend from my past. His name is Amjad Ali Khan and he is regarded as one of the greatest living classical musicians on the Indian subcontinent. Because of my past relationship with him (He gave me lessons during his 1970 tour), I am obliged and privileged to call him Ustad, or teacher. His musical pedigree goes back five generations when his people, who were Afghani Muslims, came to India and brought with them the sarod, his instrument.
About ten years ago, Ustad Amjad Ali was on a concert tour of the US. I drove down to Scranton, PA to see and hear him. It had been thirteen years since I last saw him His art had grown very deep and powerful over those years. Hindustani music has a centuries old tradition and is immensely sophisticated. They don't have orchestras. Just the solo artist performs with drone and percussion accompaniment. Ustad Amjad Ali is a master. His is very serious, high art, not easy for many Westerners to appreciate. Nonetheless, at the end of his performance that night, he did something spontaneous and so beautiful that I will never forget it. He said that he wanted to finish with a tune that he thought should be the whole world's anthem. We waited expectantly as he took up his instrument and surprised and moved us by playing "We Shall Overcome" in the style of a dhun, a kind of folksong.
I was just reading a speech you gave at the International Drug Enforcement Conference in Costa Rica two years ago. I read hearing in my head your voice and all of your familiar locutions going on about violence and drug trafficking and finishing up with your concern for the children who sang their national anthem on the television that morning. All very serious and sober, as you are. And I remembered that one day, a few years ago, the Public Information Officer from one DEA's regional offices called me and asked about our slogan: "No to drugs, violence and intolerance." He understood the first two, but he was perplexed by the third. I did my best to explain to him that more violence and drug abuse flow from intolerance than from any other source so that combating it had better be part of our mission or we are wasting our time. I guess I haven't gotten through because I see the ubiquitous D.A.R.E. T-shirts still don't mention it.
Well, now, I've been watching you for thirteen years, the same amount of time that Edgar Croswell watched Joseph Barbara. Almost the same amount of time that elapsed between the time I first met Ustad Amjad Ali that night in Scranton. His art grew deep and powerful. He has made his individual mark on the history of art and culture. But what we remember of that night, what we will remember him as a person was his leap into our simple and common wish for a better world when he chose the anthem of the American civil rights movement to respond to that wish.
I am overjoyed to see that my dear old friend and my hero the top trooper and cartel-smashing nark is on his way to confront intolerance in Northern Ireland. And I hope that when you contemplate the fact that the more than 300 RUC officers who have been murdered over the past thirty years, the eight thousand and something who have been feloniously injured and all the other deaths and atrocities that have marked the Troubles are the result of intolerance that has been passed down from generation to generation. One can't blame foreign drug lords and terrorists and other comic book villains (I refuse to dignify them as anything more) or claim that things used to be better but these kids are out of control or people don't go to church often enough . . . . Grown up people did this to themselves and to their children.
In your IDEC speech, you kept referring the "this climate" which you alleged is created by drug lords trying to get rich by poisoning our children. "If drug abuse and drug trafficking continue at the present rate . . . we are predestining our children and grandchildren to a world of despair and violence." Our human society is not just a climate. It is something we construct for ourselves and we deserve what we make. People take drugs because they are in despair and they lash out in violence because they have nothing to believe in. All the cops in the world -- even if they were all Tom Constantines -- can't do anything about that. But this one and only Tom Constantine can.
I can still remember the first time I met you. The governor had just nominated you for superintendent and you showed up at a meeting and said: "I can't believe this happened to a kid from Buffalo." Well, even more remarkable things are ahead of us and they will not just happen. That kid from Buffalo will make them happen. Walt Whitman wrote: "Gentlemen look on this wonder . . . For it the globe lay preparing quintillions of years." He was talking about a black slave on the auction block -- a slave who would soon be free.
The wonder before us now came out of the past forty years, the years of your career over the span of which American policing has grown deep and powerful and has emerged as a great profession -- the envy and the hope of all the world; its professionalism a mighty force in the triumph of the civil rights movement. I know that we will see that proved in Northern Ireland. You will do that. And we shall overcome.
All the best,
Click here to see Oversight Commissioner Tom Constantine in his new office at Stormont Castle.
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