Revolutionary Worker #994, February 14, 1999
Amadou Diallo came to this country two and a half years ago from the village of Lelouma in Guinea, a country in western Africa. He worked 12 hours a day as a street vendor in Manhattan selling socks, gloves and videos. He sent most of the money he earned back to Guinea to help his family. He lived in a predominantly Black and Latino neighborhood in the South Bronx. His friends and neighbors recalled that he liked to sit out on the stoop of his building and talk to people in the neighborhood. He was an avid soccer and basketball fan. He was only 22 years old, with his whole life ahead of him.
But on the night of February 4, Amadou Diallo's life was added to the list of hundreds that have been stolen by the NYPD.
Diallo returned home from work and then went out to the store at about 12:45 a.m. He had just come back when four plainclothes cops drove up to his building in an unmarked car. They jumped out and confronted Diallo in the front entryway.
Suddenly, all four cops opened fire at close range. Two emptied their clips, firing 16 bullets each from their Glock 9 millimeter semi-automatics. The four cops fired a total of 41 shots.
Forty-one shots! At a man who had nothing but a wallet and a beeper on him!
Diallo's body was riddled with bullets. He was hit 19 times--11 times in the legs, five times on his left side, once in the back, once in the arm and once in the chest. Bullets ripped apart his aorta, spinal cord, lungs, liver, spleen, kidney and intestines. He died instantly. It took the medical examiner over 10 hours to determine how many times and where he was hit.
Momodou Kujabi, one of Diallo's roommates, remembered his friend as a hard-working man with a gentle grin who was liked by everybody. "I would rather it had been me" who was shot by the cops, he said. "This guy was better than me."
The shooting of Amadou Diallo has especially rocked the African community in New York City. Like Diallo, many African immigrants fled poverty and civil wars back home in the hopes of finding a better life here One man from Liberia said, "It makes you wonder whether leaving your troubled homes was a mistake. America was supposed to be a safe haven, but if you get shot by the police, who else can you turn to?"
As word of this cold-blooded murder spread across the city, many, many people were outraged. Amnesty International USA said in a statement that the shooting "raises deeply troubling questions about the use of excessive force and police brutality." The Nation of Islam condemned the killing. The Center for Constitutional Rights called for an appointment of a special prosecutor. Sensing the widespread anger, many elected officials denounced the shooting.
The power structure's damage control machine quickly went into high gear. Bronx D.A. announced that a grand jury would investigate the shooting. (Meanwhile, the cops were merely put on administrative duty--in other words, desk jobs.) Mayor Giuliani, known for his arrogant, pro-police stand, took a slightly different approach than he usually does when cops murder someone. Instead of jumping to defend the cops no matter what their story, he pled for "wisdom" and "patience" until "the facts are known." But he refused to apologize or express any sympathy to Diallo's family or friends. And at one press conference he even presented charts supposedly showing that the NYPD has a lower rate of murders than police in other cities--as if this could justify stealing someone's life!
In a highly unusual move, federal authorities immediately stepped into the case to investigate possible civil rights violations. The New York Times commented that this move was "perhaps intended as public reassurance in an explosive case already drawing comparisons to those of Abner Louima, the Haitian immigrant tortured in a Brooklyn station house in 1997, and Anthony Baez, who died in the Bronx after a struggle with Officer Francis X. Livoti in 1994."
As we go to press the authorities claim there were no civilian witnesses to the shooting. And the four cops who murdered Diallo remain silent. However, a lawyer hired by the PBA (police union) gave an "unofficial" story to reporters. Stephen Worth said the four cops "do not apologize" for killing Diallo. The cops are apparently claiming Diallo was acting "suspiciously," that he "resembled" a rapist they were looking for, and that he refused to follow their orders and exhibited "aggressive behavior." Worth said the cops thought Diallo had a gun. Unnamed "police sources" claim the cops mistook Diallo's beeper for a weapon!
Kyle Watters, an attorney for Diallo's family, told the media, "I've seen a lot of beepers, and I've never had any fear of them. I can't imagine anyone mistaking a beeper for a gun." The NYPD, however, has a bloody history of shooting people for holding toys or other harmless objects--including even a candy wrapper.
Worth's justification for the 41 shots fired by the cops was an example of the twisted mentality of the police: "The reason they are given this kind of fire power is to neutralize what they perceive as a threat. While it may seem to a layman to be excessive, it was the number required before this man stopped. All 41 shots did not hit this individual."
The cops who shot Diallo were all on the force for at least five years, and all were members of an elite section of the NYPD called the street crimes unit. Cops who want to "kick some butt" and make their way up the ranks in the police department fast join this unit. They are assigned to "search out" crimes rather than responding to calls. In practice, this means they constantly harass, brutalize and search people without any legal "probable cause." In 1997 and 1998, the street crimes unit stopped and searched 45,000 people. Their motto is "We Own the Night." It was members of this unit that fired eight shots at Wu Tang Clan rapper Russell Jones last month. Cops claimed that Jones fired at them first, but a grand jury ruled that Jones didn't even have a gun.
Three of the four cops who murdered Diallo have been involved in shootings before. Kenneth Boss shot and killed a man in Brooklyn in October 1997--that case is still under investigation. Boss has three prior complaints to the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), two involving alleged misuse of force. Edward McMellon, who fired 16 times at Diallo, shot and wounded a man in Brooklyn last year. He has five complaints with the CCRB. Sean Carroll, who also fired 16 times, has three complaints at the CCRB, all alleging inappropriate use of force.
The murder of Amadou Diallo exposes the reality that the police have been given a green light to brutalize and kill. Authorities at various levels have created a situation and an atmosphere where a whole generation of youth have been criminalized. Police have gotten away with murder time and time again--in New York and across the country.
Kyle Watters said, "We want justice. Ultimately, we want to have these officers prosecuted and convicted and spend the rest of their lives in jail."
This police murder of Amadou Diallo has begun to bring many different forces together to struggle to see that these cops don't get away with it this time. A vigil is planned at the sight of the shooting. A protest is planned at the U.S. attorney's office. Two days after Diallo was gunned down, a meeting was held at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem attended by close to 100 activists, religious leaders and community organizers. They called for a city-wide protest on February 22.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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