Amadou Diallo

Amadou Bailo Diallo (September 2, 1975 – February 4, 1999) was a 23-year-old immigrant to the United States from Guinea, who was shot and killed on February 4, 1999, by four New York City Police Department plain-clothed officers: Sean Carroll, Brendan Murphy, Edward McMellon and Kenneth Boss. The four men fired a total of 41 rounds. Diallo was unarmed at the time of the shooting, and a firestorm of controversy erupted subsequent to the event as the circumstances of the shooting prompted outrage both within and outside New York City. Issues such as police brutality, racial profiling, and contagious shooting were central to the ensuing controversy.

The shooting took place at 1157 Wheeler Avenue in the Soundview section of The Bronx. The four officers involved were part of the now-defunct Street Crimes Unit. All of the officers were acquitted of criminal charges at trial.

One of four children of Saikou and Kadiatou Diallo, Amadou’s family is part of an old Fulbe (Fula or Fulani people) trading family from the Fouta Djallon highlands of Guinea. He was born in Sinoe, Liberia while his father was working there, and grew up following his family to Togo, Bangkok, and Singapore, attending schools in Thailand, and later in Guinea and London, including Microsoft‘s Asian Institute. In September 1996, Amadou came to New York City where he and a cousin started a business, and to where other family members had immigrated. There he planned to enroll in college to pursue a computer science degree. Amadou Diallo is buried in the village of Hollande Bourou in the Fouta Djallon, where his extended family resides.[1]

[edit] Events surrounding death

Diallo had come to New York City to study biochemistry, but had not enrolled in school. Diallo sought to remain in the US on a long-term basis. Although his political asylum application was fictitious he was in the US legally because of his temporary visa.[2] He sold videotapes, gloves and socks from the sidewalk along 14th Street during the day and studied in the evenings.

In the early morning of February 4 Diallo was standing near his building after returning from a meal. Police officers Edward McMellon, Sean Carroll, Kenneth Boss and Richard Murphy passed by in a Ford Taurus when they thought Diallo matched the description of a (since-captured) serial rapist and approached him. The officers were in plain clothes. The officers claimed that they loudly identified themselves as NYPD officers and that Diallo ran up the outside steps toward his apartment house doorway at their approach, ignoring their orders to stop and “show his hands.” As the suspect reached into his jacket, Carroll believed Diallo was drawing a firearm and yelled “Gun!” to alert his colleagues. The officers opened fire on Diallo and during the burst McMellon fell down the steps, appearing to be shot. The four officers fired forty-one shots, hitting Diallo nineteen times. Investigation found no weapons on Diallo’s body; the item he had pulled out of his jacket was not a gun, but a wallet.

On March 25 a Bronx grand jury indicted the officers on charges of second-degree murder and reckless endangerment. On December 16 a New York appellate court ordered a change of venue to Albany, New York, stating that pretrial publicity had made a fair trial in New York City impossible. On February 25, 2000, after two days of deliberations, a jury unanimously voted to acquit the officers of all charges.

[edit] Aftermath

Diallo’s death, the change of venue, and the verdict each sparked massive demonstrations against police brutality and racial profiling, resulting in more than 1,700 arrests over the course of many weeks. Those arrested in the daily protests at the entrance of One Police Plaza came from all walks of life, and included former NYPD officers, former mayor David Dinkins, Congressmen Charlie Rangel and Gregory Meeks, the Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, actress Susan Sarandon, more than a dozen rabbis and other clergy, and numerous federal, state, and local politicians. Charges against the protesters were later dropped. In 2001 the Justice Department announced that it would not charge the officers with having violated Diallo’s civil rights.

On April 18, 2000, Diallo’s mother, Kadiatou, and his stepfather, Sankarella Diallo filed a US$61,000,000 ($20m plus $1m for each shot fired) lawsuit against the City of New York and the officers, charging gross negligence, wrongful death, racial profiling, and other violations of Diallo’s civil rights. In March 2004, they accepted a US$3,000,000 settlement. Kadiatou and Sankarella Diallo have remained in the United States thus far. The settlement was one of the highest against the City of New York for a single man with no dependents under New York State’s restrictive wrongful death law, which limits damages to pecuniary loss by the descedant’s next of kin. Anthony H. Gair a partner in the law firm of Gair, Gair, Conason, Steigman & Mackauf, lead counsel for the Diallo family, argued that Federal Common Law should apply pursuant to Section 1983 of the civil rights act.

The shooting death of Diallo also highlighted the presence and plight of West African immigrants (about 50,000 as of 1999) living in New York City. Many are single males who work as street peddlers (as did Diallo) or as employees in wholesale and retail establishments.

In April 2002, as a result of the killing of Diallo and other controversial actions, the Street Crime Unit was disbanded.

In 2003, Amadou Diallo’s mother Kadiatou published a memoir, My Heart Will Cross This Ocean: My Story, My Son, Amadou with the help of author Craig Wolff (ISBN 0-345-45600-9).

Diallo’s death became an issue in the 2005 mayoral election in New York City. Bronx borough president, and mayoral candidate, Fernando Ferrer, who had protested the circumstances of Diallo’s death at the time, told a meeting of police sergeants that although the shooting had certainly been a tragedy, there was subsequently a move to “over-indict” the officers involved. This led to criticism of Ferrer by the Diallo family.

The event even spurred subsequent Social Psychology research. Keith Payne (2001) and Joshua Correll et al. (2002) were among the first to publish findings, providing converging evidence from psychological experiments that when the decision must be made quickly, a black man in the United States is more likely to be mistakenly perceived as holding a gun than a white man. Eberhard and colleagues (2004) conducted similar experiments with police officers which revealed that they took longer to decide to not shoot an unarmed black target than an unarmed white target, and were quicker to decide to shoot an armed black target than an armed white target.[3]


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