The Life and Death of Amadou Diallo

Eyes of the world on NY police murder

Revolutionary Worker #995, February 21, 1999

"Amadou was from Guinea. But now, Amadou is from the whole world because the whole world is sympathizing with us."

Kadiadou Diallo, mother of Amadou Diallo

"I love my nephew deeply and I will miss him daily. And my sadness is made greater knowing that the four people who took his life are still walking free."

Mamdou Diallo, uncle of Amadou Diallo

Imagine if an unarmed off-duty police officer in New York City was brought down by a fusillade of 41 bullets fired by four Black men. If the four men were not shot by police on the spot, they would immediately be arrested. If they actually made it to a jail cell, they would be charged with murder. City, state and local authorities would be falling all over themselves calling for the death penalty.

On February 4, Amadou Diallo, an immigrant from Guinea, West Africa, was executed in cold blood by four plainclothes New York City police officers. The cops fired 41 times at an unarmed man! As we go to press 11 days later none of these cops have been arrested. In fact, they are still on the job--on desk duty--and they haven't even been questioned! Meanwhile unnamed police officials and the cops' lawyer have leaked out "theories" to "justify" this horrible murder. They say: Diallo was acting "suspicious." He "fit the description" of a rapist. He was "reaching" for something they thought was a gun. They fired 41 shots because they thought they were being fired at, either because bullets "ricocheted" back at them or because one of the cops fell to the ground. But these are all lies. The fact is, Diallo was unarmed. He had only a beeper and a wallet.

What was Amadou Diallo's "crime?" He was young and Black and on the street in front of his house late at night. Daily News columnist Jim Dwyer wrote, "The suspect, Mr. Diallo, was suspected of being suspicious." One of the medics who came to the scene of the shooting told Dwyer, "You could hardly put your foot down without stepping on shell casings. I was sure that it was a drug assassination--that an Uzi or a Tec-9 had been used. I didn't know it was a police shooting. Whoever did it, it looked like they sure wanted him dead."

Mayor Giuliani had the nerve to tell people to "calm down" and "wait for the facts." But the fact is--there is no justification for shooting a man 41 times simply because he's Black! This is cold-blooded murder, pure and simple. These cops should be arrested and charged with murder.

Diallo's murder has ignited a storm of struggle among the people in New York. It has brought together people of different nationalities. New coalitions have formed to demand justice. Thousands of people have been in the streets in the past week and many more demonstrations have been called. Over 1,000 people took part in a vigil at the site of Amadou Diallo's murder in the freezing rain. A sign, hung from the apartment window, read simply, "Why?" Two thousand protested at the federal building downtown. Speakers included family members, religious leaders, people from many African countries, political activists of many perspectives, members of Parents Against Police Brutality, Attorneys Ron Kuby and Norman Siegel (from the ACLU) and elected officials. The Latin Kings represented wearing their colors.

People are righteously angry. There is a broad sense of, "I could be next" among many Black and Latino people of all ages, men and women. A neighbor of Diallo's said, "You wouldn't shoot a wild animal that many times." An immigrant from Africa, Dr. Abdoulaye Balde, told the press, "This can happen to any one of us. We all come here and work. We all come home late. He got shot yesterday. I could get shot today." One Black man told the press, "If they let the cops get away with this, they're going to do this to someone else." New York Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez wrote, "Has even the slightest movement by anyone a cop considers suspicious become grounds to shoot him?"

A Black woman who worships at the Abyssinian Baptist Church said, "It seems to me that they've gone even beyond going after Black men. Now they're going after Blackness. It's gotten to the point where either you stand up and fight this or you just get in line to be the next one shot." At a mass meeting at his church, Reverend Calvin Butts said, "We are outraged.... We will be trying to speak with one voice in support of all the efforts against police brutality." The Center for Constitutional Rights offered legal assistance to anyone arrested protesting this injustice.

Dozens of elected officials have worried out loud, warning of the potential for mass unrest. Meanwhile, in Guinea and other countries in Africa and South Asia (Amadou's father lives in Vietnam), millions of people are watching. Aboubacar Dione, the first counsel of Guinea's permanent mission to the United Nations, said, "They don't understand why these four are still free." Members of the Guinean government contacted U.S. officials to express their concern. Amadou's family said word of his murder is all over the TV in Africa, that youth are making T-shirts in his memory. Amadou's mother, Kadiadou Diallo, said: "Everywhere, every country, in Togo, too, people are crying."

A Parent's Pain

When Kadiadou Diallo arrived in New York from Guinea, the first place she went was to the scene where her son was shot. "Why? Why? Why?" she cried, repeating his name, Amadou, over and over. Later she said, "Justice must be done." Amadou's father flew in from Vietnam and the two spent the week visiting the people whose lives their son touched and the places where he lived and worked.

Mayor Giuliani repeatedly tried to arrange meetings with and offer "financial assistance" to Diallo's parents. But they refused every offer from Giuliani. One day Giuliani waited at their hotel for over an hour but Diallo's parents did not respond. They shunned the city's offer of police escorts as they traveled around the city to visit with people who knew their son. At the prayer service for Abadou the family refused to speak with Giuliani and he was heckled by the crowd.

When NY1 TV reporter Dominick Carter asked why they would not meet the mayor, Mr. Diallo said, "Forty-one bullets in anybody, even elephant, one bullet enough to kill one elephant.... We were not able to meet him unless those police officers who killed our son have been arrested or in custody. If they'd been arrested or in custody even today, we're willing to meet him tomorrow. For this time, we have very great pain in our heart to see our son's body laying down here and those police officers who murdered him working...."

Kadiadou and Saikou Diallo sat in between the candy counter and the magazine rack of a convenience store on 14th Street in Manhattan and listened to people in the community tell stories about their son. Amadou's mother sat in the same chair her son had used to sell his wares, sobbing. A cashier told them their son had urged him every day to stop drinking. The owner of the store showed them the video tapes that Amadou had sold on a table out front. Kadiadou and Saikou told the New York Times they were proud to find that while their son struggled to make ends meet with earnings of about $20 a day and occasional help from home, his life was one of honesty and compassion. They said they did not mind the intense news coverage of their visit, and instead said they felt strengthened by the thousands of people who had gathered over the last week at demonstrations and meetings to protest their son's murder. At a community meeting in Harlem, Kadiadou Diallo said, "You have given me courage to stand here because all of you have stood by us."

Amadou came from a well-off family, and he had studied English and computer engineering before coming to the United States. The oldest of four children, he came to the U.S. wanting to get a college education. But institutions here did not recognize his foreign high school diploma.

Known by everyone as Ahmed, Amadou Diallo worked as a street peddler, selling tube socks and videotapes. Friends said Amadou often reached into his pocket to give a dollar to people panhandling who passed the store where he worked, or to loan money to students at the high school across the street. The New York Times reported that one student said Amadou loaned him $43 to help pay his income taxes.

On Friday, February 12, a prayer service was held for Amadou Diallo at the Islamic Cultural Center. So many people came to pay their respects and pray for Diallo that they could not fit inside the mosque. Several thousand people attended, including people from Africa and the Caribbean, Arabs, South Asians, Latinos, as well as some Asian and white people. A woman who worked near Diallo said, "I had the opportunity to pass there at lunch time, talk to him, see his beautiful smile and his wonderful personality and I am very touched by this."

The grounds were full of people, as were the sidewalks around the mosque. After the service ended, there was suddenly a loud noise from the side of the building and dozens of young African men emerged carrying Amadou's coffin. Moving fast, defiant, wailing and chanting, "Allah Akbar!" (God is great!) they carried the coffin containing Amadou's body right into the street, in the midst of people gathered outside. A chill ran through the crowd and many people burst into tears. On top of the coffin was Amadou's name and Arabic writing which Newsday reported said, "Body of the martyr of injustice and aggression."

An Epidemic of Police Brutality and Murder

Just after Diallo was murdered Mayor Giuliani said, "We've had terrible mistakes in this city when people have reacted to rumors and intuitions and feelings. Let's let the situation run its course and then let's react to the facts." Giuliani was referring to the rebellions in Crown Heights after Gavin Cato was killed in 1991 and in Washington Heights after the police murder of Kiko Garcia in 1992.

The fact is there is an epidemic of police brutality and murder in New York City--and across the country.

Last October Amnesty International released a report called Rights for All, in which they wrote, "There is a widespread and persistent problem of police brutality across the USA." The report singles out New York City as having one of the worst records in the country. Giuliani scoffed at the report. Federal authorities did nothing in response.

In New York City, under the code words "Quality of Life," Giuliani has tried to create an atmosphere of strict obedience and lock-step compliance with authority. "Quality of Life" assaults have especially targeted Black and Latino youth--sometimes in the name of targeting crime or drugs or gangs or truancy. Giuliani has also targeted homeless people, welfare mothers, cab drivers, vendors, student protesters, jaywalkers, people who take up more than one seat on the subway, dance the rumba in Central Park, ride bicycles without bells, sell peeled fruit on the streets, or fly kites. Large numbers of middle class people have been harassed and arrested for petty offenses like selling art in the street or violating park curfews, and more than a few have been brutalized. Police made 403,659 arrests last year alone--almost half a million people.

The fact is a whole generation of youth has been criminalized and made targets for the police. Between 1992 and 1996 the NYPD murdered 187 people. Most were young, Black and Latino. And police have been unleashed to attack political opposition to Giuliani's program. Last September, Giuliani sent 5,000 cops to attack the Million Youth March in Harlem. A month later cops attacked a memorial funeral for Matthew Shepard (the gay student who was murdered in Wyoming). And Giuliani tried (unsuccessfully) to deny a permit for the October 22nd march on the National Day of Protest Against Police Brutality.

A federal "empowerment zone" in Harlem has even been used to justify police brutality. Giuliani claims that the police crackdown on "quality of life" crimes has created the conditions for investment because it has reduced crime by more than 30 percent. A woman from Harlem who had bought videos from Amadou Diallo told the RW: "It's an outrage. Are we going to keep letting this happen? Are they going to keep getting away with it each and every time? It's got to stop." She was with her husband outside the mosque at the prayer service for Diallo. When the RW asked her husband about his experiences with police brutality, he shook his head and said, "So many, so many. It's a shame..." and trailed off, unable to speak. His wife continued for him, "Kicked his balls, knocked down, busted upside the head." She said just the other day they were coming home from getting their groceries and were stopped by police. Her husband was arrested because he didn't have a license and her license didn't have an address on it. The cops claimed the car was stolen and, instead of looking it up in the computer, they took him in.

The fact is there is a police-state atmosphere in many Black and Latino communities. Bob Herbert wrote in his New York Times column about Amadou Diallo, "His death is seen by most blacks as simply the latest tragic manifestation of the ruthless and humiliating treatment of ethnic minorities that is part of the daily routine of so many cops in this city.... How gruesome has the situation become? Some parents and civic leaders are teaching black and Hispanic children to quickly display their hands during any encounter with the police, like little criminals. This is to show that the youngsters are not armed and therefore should not be blown into eternity at age 10 or 15 or 20 by a trigger-happy stranger in a blue uniform.... There is a widespread feeling among black New Yorkers that they are living in a police state, and that many of the cops are a threat to the very lives of their children."

Justice for Amadou Diallo!

Despite intense mass outrage, including criticism from many elected officials, the mayor and police commissioner have not arrested the cops. The four killers are still on desk duty. When criticized for not reaching out to the Black community, Giuliani said he did not want to "exploit" a tragedy. Meanwhile Police Commissioner Safir left town to attend a police convention in L.A. because he didn't think there was a "crisis in the city." Giuliani said, "There is no crisis or emergency going on and things have been proceeding quite normally." New York Governor Pataki called the shooting a "horrible tragedy" and said he hopes the "facts will be able to be determined" in as "non-emotional way as possible." The New York Times wrote in an editorial: "Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has wisely counseled New Yorkers not to rush to judgment..."

Police Commissioner Safir ordered a review of tactics and "refresher training" for the street crime unit and for the commander of the unit to have daily discussions with his officers about the use of firearms. But Patrick E. Kelleher, first deputy police commissioner, said there was no problem with the way the department handles encounters with suspects. The pigs who murdered Diallo are negotiating the terms of their grand jury testimony, trying to cover themselves. The federal government sent the FBI to monitor the Bronx DA office when witnesses were interviewed this week. The mayor and other authorities say the Bronx DA and U.S. district attorney must be allowed to do their jobs and reach a "thorough and fair conclusion."

People have been told before to rely on the system for change. What has happened? Very little. With the exception of a few cops, none of these murderers has even been disciplined. Almost all of them are still on the streets. The murderers of Anthony Baez is a case in point. Anthony was choked to death by a cop named Livoti because his football hit Livoti's car. The family of Anthony Baez had to wage fierce struggle to get what is only partial justice. The Bronx DA initially refused to indict Livoti. Livoti was then acquitted by a state judge. The federal government found Livoti guilty of violating the civil rights of Anthony Baez. But he only got seven and a half years in prison, a slap on the wrist for stealing someone's life! At a rally at the Federal Building, Iris Baez told the crowd: "We're here for one purpose, to honor our brother who lost his life unnecessarily. He was shot down. I'm imploring to all the mothers, we bring out children up to respect the law, we bring our children up to care for each other. And this is the way they get treated... They wanted cold-blooded murder. They murdered another man. They should pay."

After Haitian immigrant Abner Louima was beaten and sodomized by police in 1997, a commission to examine police brutality was formed and the mayor rejected all of its recommendations. The federal government took over the case and has yet to take it to court. The cops involved in the beating are not allowed to work, but still receive their salaries. People have complained to the Civilian Complaint Review Board with little result. Parents whose children have been murdered by the NYPD have struggled hard to get the cops indicted. Only in a few cases has this happened. They have asked the federal authorities to take up the cases. In almost every case they have been refused.

Members of Parents Against Police Brutality have spoken out at every protest and news conference to demand justice for the murder of Amadou Diallo.

Margarita Rosario, founder of Parents Against Police Brutality speaking at a rally at the federal courthouse said: "I say por que? Por que? Why? Why does this continue? My son was shot 14 times in the back, Anthony Rosario. My nephew eight times in the back face down on the floor by Patrick Brosnan and James Crow from the 46th precinct, bodyguards from Giuliani. Giuliani has given the okay to kill our people. He is a murderer!.... My son was taken away from me four years ago and it hurts. It hurts to keep on hearing this is happening in the community in the same manner and nothing is being done. We must not tolerate this anymore!"

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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