Amadou Diallo was shot 41 times by NYPD’s Street Crimes Unit in 1999

Kadiatou Diallo and Amadou Diallo

On February 4, 1999, four New York City Police Department plainclothes officers fatally shot unarmed Amadou Diallo at 12:44 AM, in the vestibule of his building at 1157 Wheeler Avenue in the Soundview section of the Bronx. Officers Sean Carroll, Richard Murphy, Edward McMellon, and Kenneth Boss let off 41 shots at Amadou, 19 of which struck him. Officer Sean Carroll claimed that Amadou matched the description of a serial rapist that he and the other four officers of the Street Crimes Unit were in search of. Officer Carroll also claimed that Amadou reached into his jacket to pull out an object that he and the other officers interpreted as a gun, then let off a bombardment of 41 bullets. The object pulled out of Amadou’s jacket was his wallet. Police spokesman and investigator Michael Collins stated that investigators did not find a weapon on Diallo’s body or at the scene of his murder.

Amadou Diallo emigrated to New York City in September 1996 from Guinea, West Africa. Diallo was a devout Muslim of the Fulani tribe from the village of Lelouma, where his mother, Kadiatou Diallo, and most of his family resided. While in the United States, Amadou resided in a community of Guineans who settled in the Soundview section of the Bronx. Described as an extremely kind, shy, and hard-working man, Diallo worked 12 hour shifts as he sold gloves,videotapes, socks, and other items on Manhattan’s 14th Street. He shared an apartment with a fellow Guinean, Momodou Kujabi, and his two cousins, Modousalieu Diallo and Abdou Rahman Diallo. Abdou stated “All he did was go to work and come home.” Amadou’s immediate goal was to obtain a degree in Computer Science, which was cut short due to his untimely death. The surrounding Guinean community responded to Amadou’s death and amongst those included his roommate, Momodou Kajubi:

Mr. Kujabi and other men from Mr. Diallo’s native country, Guinea, gathered outside his apartment building in the Soundview section of the Bronx to express quiet outrage and make grim preparations to collect his body, have it washed in the Islamic tradition and send it home.

A Hard Worker With a Gentle Smile, New York Times, Feb. 5, 1999, Amy Waldman

Immediately after the murder of Amadou, the four plainclothes officers were placed on administrative duty, while NYPD investigated the shooting. Three of the four plainclothes officers who murdered Amadou were involved in shootings at least two years prior: 

Officer Boss, who has been on the police force for seven years, is under investigation in the October 1997 fatal shooting of a man who the police said was menacing people with a shotgun in front of an apartment building on Sheffield Avenue in East New York, Brooklyn. Officer Mcmellon, A five-year Police veteran, was cleared after shooting and wounding a man in East New York, Brooklyn last June. The police said the man had a loaded 9-millimeter handgun. Officer Carroll,who has also been on the force for five years, was found to have been justified in firing his gun last August on Wilson Avenue in the Bronx.

3 of the Officers Were Involved in Shootings in the Last 2 Years, New York Times, Feb. 5, 1999, Kit R. Roane

On February 8, 1999, up to 1,000 people angered by Diallo’s murder rallied in front of his home to condemn the racially charged brutal actions of the four white plainclothes officer. In attendance at the rally were community leaders, politicians, and demonstrators from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, with most of them being Black:

Most of those in the crowd were African-Americans or immigrants from countries in West Africa, who said they felt as if they had lost a brother. Professionals stood with blue-collar workers who carried homemade posters of skeletons wearing police uniforms. Retirees and college graduates pumped their fists into the air and shouted ”Black power!” And parents coaxed their children to pay attention.

1,000 Rally to Condemn Shooting of Unarmed Man By Police, New York Times, Feb. 8, 1999, Ginger Thompson

There was a sea of chants that included “No justice, no peace,” “41 bullets,” “four officers,” and “one man dead.” The protestors demanded a federal investigation for Diallo’s murder, as they cited Mayor Giuliani’s failure to condemn the officers for the murder and order their arrests: “Mamadou Ka, who came to New York five years ago from Senegal, said of Mr. Giuliani, ‘When people shoot cops, he is there, but when cops shoot people he doesn’t show up.’”

Diallo’s mother, Kadiatou rejected Mayor Giuliani’s offer for financial help in transporting his body back to Guinea from New York City, as she and her husband preferred the help of other African immigrants and relatives. Al Sharpton spoke to Kadiatou’s rejection of Giuliani’s aid:

‘I hate to blow the Mayor’s bubble here, but they are not preoccupied with the Mayor,” said Mr. Sharpton, who has taken a highly visible role in protests over the shooting. ”They are preoccupied with how they are going to deal with political injustice and how they are going to bury someone who shouldn’t be being buried.’

Slain Man’s Mother Rejects Mayor’s Aid, New York Times, Feb. 11, 1999, Blaine Harden

Workers from the Mayor’s office sent people to pick up Saikou Diallo, Amadou’s father, from Kennedy International Airport, but Saikou decided to leave with Al Sharpton and family attorney Kyle Watters. Saikou spent time in Amadou’s Bronx apartment at 1157 Wheeler Avenue.

New York City’s first Black mayor and Giuliani’s predecessor condemned Giuliani’s reaction as “woefully inadequate,” and had more criticism for the handling of the case: ”This business of, the police always are entitled to the benefit of the doubt, should not operate in every circumstance,’ Mr. Dinkins said. ‘Clearly, the fact of this put the burden on the cops to come forward and explain. The mayor should be asking that question.’” Mayor Giuliani spoke to reporters to explain that he understood the frustration surrounding the case and handling of Diallo’s murder, but stated “there is a tendency of some people in our society to blame the police in broad strokes that is just as vicious a prejudice as any other prejudice.” Mayor Giuliani would double down on his stance on the same day Amadou Diallo’s parents transported his hearse from the National Action Network on 125th Street in Harlem, surrounded by Al Sharpton, community members and angry demonstrators, to Guinea, West Africa for burial. While demonstrators chanted “no justice, no peace,” and “Giuliani must go,” Mayor Giuliani continued to defend the New York City Police Department at City Hall:

”When people in other major urban police departments want to learn about restraint,” he said at a news conference, ”they come to the city of New York and look at the things the Police Department in New York City does to teach police officers restraint, cultural awareness, cultural sensitivity. It’s not done perfectly, it will never be done perfectly, it should be done even better, but the strategies actually are working very, very effectively and almost everybody outside New York City who is in this business understands that.”

He also challenged the notion that the police are disproportionately targeting members of minority groups. When a reporter said that 85 percent of the people shot by the police in the last five years were black or Hispanic, the Mayor responded, ”But that is actually less than the number that are actually shot in society.”

Parents Fly Back to Africa With Body of Son Killed By Police, New York Times, Feb. 15, 1999, Paul Zielbauer

Mayor Giuliani also deflected with a “Black-on-Black crime” argument: “There are more shootings involving black victims and black shooters as a percentage than there are of police officers doing it. So I know those are difficult facts for people to deal with but what we should be about in government and what you should be about in the media is leading people to the truth, not to reinforcing biases and prejudices.”

On February 25, 1999, all four officers were acquitted of all charges for their participation in the murder of Amadou Diallo by a jury in Albany. Diallo’s parent, Saikou and Kadiatou, were described as quiet upon hearing the verdict, with Kadiatou moved to tears as they swiftly left the courtroom. After the acquittal, the lawyers who represented the officers blamed Diallo for his murder and the excessive amount of bullets fired on his “suspicious behavior” and supposed failure to follow orders; rather than the racial profiling, excessive force and abuse of power displayed by the officers.

While Mayor Giuliani, the Bronx District Attorney, and the lawyers for the officers praised the “fair trial” while acknowledging “the mistakes,” former Mayor David Dinkins condemned the acquittal as he stated that ”this will send the wrong message to those members of the Street Crime Unit who walk around saying, ‘We own the night,’ ” and Al Sharpton’s claims that there would be a push for the Justice Department to bring a federal civil rights case. Kadiatou Diallo gave a statement outside of the courthouse: ‘I ask for your calm and prayers.” She added, ”As we go on for the quest of justice, life, equality — I thank you all.”

In 2004, Diallo’s family settled the civil lawsuit against New York City in the case of Diallo’s murder for 3 million dollars. The civil lawsuit was filed in April 2000 and initially aimed for 61 million dollars. Diallo’s family used much of the settlement to create the Amadou Diallo Foundation.

The NYPD disbanded the Street Crimes Unit which prior to Diallo’s murder came under scrutiny various times with criticisms from politicians and community members. The only officer involved in Diallo’s murder still employed with the NYPD is Kenneth Boss. Former Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly expressed to Kadiatou Diallo that he would not restore a gun to Kenneth Boss, but in 2012, Kenneth Boss indeed received a fireman. Kenneth Boss briefly served as a Marine in Iraq in 2006. Boss was determined to receive a firearm back after several denials to his pleads for one. Kadiatou characterized it as a betrayal from the NYPD, especially on the part of Commissioner Raymond Kelly.

Amadou Diallo’s legacy lives on through his family and the Amadou Diallo foundation at Amadou’s untimely death has also been honored by musical artists such as Bruce Springsteen, The Strokes, Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean, and several others; as well as in television, movies, and writing. Diallo’s high-profile case has drawn parallels to other deaths due to police brutality and racial profiling such as Sean Bell, and the thousands of cases that occur from policing in the United States.

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