Imagine if you had been Amadou Diallo

Just Imagine:

You are standing on the stoop of your building at midnight. The streets are nearly deserted, except for one car driving back and forth.

You peer nervously out, wondering what this car is doing.
Amadou Diallo

Four men with guns jump out of the car and approach you. You retreat back into your own building. They follow you into your vestibule.

What do you do? Is this a robbery? Do you stick your hands up? Do you reach for your wallet? Or, do you pull out your gun and shoot them all before they shoot you?

These are the questions which faced Amadou Diallo at 12:40 AM on February 4, 1999, when four men, all in street clothes, approached Mr. Diallo on the stoop of his building.

We will never know what Mr. Diallo was thinking, because the four men fired 41 shots, striking him 19 times, as he retreated inside.

Although they were dressed in street cloths and were driving an unmarked car, they were all police officers. The officers said that they had thought he had a gun. It turned out to be a wallet.

The four officers, all members of the Street Crime Unit, were patrolling in an unmarked car and dressed in street clothes when they turned down Wheeler Avenue in the Bronx. Officer Carroll was the first to notice Mr. Diallo on the stoop of the building. He testified that Mr. Diallo was acting suspiciously, peering out from the stoop, then "slinking" back toward the building. Mr. Diallo, Officer Carroll said, fit the general description of a serial rapist who had last struck about a year earlier, but he acknowledged on cross-examination that he could not see Mr. Diallo well enough even to determine his race.
Amadou Diallo

Two of the four officers had been involved in prior incidents where they had shot unarmed men, but those men had not died.

Most New Yorkers agree however that it was not the four police officers who are the criminals, but rather Mayor Rudi Giuliani who has created an atmosphere of racial and social intolerance and who has allowed and indeed required police officers to adopt such tactics. Rudi Giuliani had ordered his police to engage in random stop and frisk measures against young black men, in clear violation of the Constitution of the United States and numerous Supreme Court decisions. Interviews have shown that 80% of young black men have been stopped and searched in this manner. Rudi Giuliani says that this is justified because 80% of the crimes are committed by young black men.

Predictably, Rudi Giuliani defended the not guilty verdicts yesterday, as indeed he must because he is the real criminal. "It fills me with profound respect for being an American", Mr. Giuliani said of the not guilty verdict.

Similarly, the New York Post, owned by rabid right-winger Rupert Murdoch of some other country, editorialized:

"New Yorkers of good will can take comfort in the news that the tragedy of Amadou Diallo was not compounded by the ruination of the lives of four young city cops. There now is no reason to worry about the effect a guilty verdict would have on the willingness of the brave men and women of the NYPD to do their jobs correctly and with appropriate aggressiveness. Going up against bad guys with guns is tough enough. Having to contend with politically ambitious district attorneys who don't know the law they are sworn to uphold is something else. The matter of guilt has been resolved. There was none."
Rupert Murdoch applauds the verdict

All news commentators seem to think that the sole remaining question is whether the four police officers received a fair trial. However, that is not the only question.

Another question is whether four plain clothed police officers have a right to approach a man in his own building in the middle of the night. Would not Amadou Diallo have been legally justified if he had really had a gun and if he had not shot all four of them dead immediately?

Sam Sloan

As this is being written, there are riots going on outside of my apartment building. This is not on the TV news yet.

UPDATE: Here is a letter I received:

From: "Michael J. Reid" February 1st 2001.

Dear Mr Sloan,

You might be interested that I taught this unfortunate boy while he was living in Bangkok in the early nineties. He was a very nice young man, always polite and respectful of authority. He was one boy with whom we had no problems at all. The fact that he kept his hand in his pocket was a nervous gesture which I knew well as his teacher of English.

I am afraid I didn't teach Amadou the word "Freeze" as used by American policemen. I am English and could be forgiven for that mistake I suppose.

I have been following the whole story. I even sent a letter in the form of a character reference to one of your American newspapers. I don't know if it was ever published.

Thank you for putting up a web site in his honour.

Yours Sincerely,
Michael J. Reid

From: "Michael J. Reid"

Dear Mr Sloan,

Yes - you certainly may have my permission.

I just wish in a way that I could have been more helpful with my letter that I originally sent to a newspaper. As I said I don't think that it was ever published - but it would have been so important at the time that the police were being judged.

His mannerism I can well remember - because he was actually a very shy boy. I had him as a student until he was fourteen or so. He then had to leave our school at which point I don't know where went.

Of course it was a great shock to all of us who taugth him. However, I must say that the police "worldwide" and not just in the USA are getting themselves quite a bad reputation for unlawful violence.

Funnily enough while I was at my gym yesterday morning the Diallo affair came up on CNN. Then in my French course (I am taking conversational lessons in the language) I was able to use the case as an example of police brutality - which we were discussing during the lesson.

Then in the evening as I was again looking at the internet I decided to see if the "Diallo" case had died its natural death in the archives of history and I was very glad to see that it was still very much alive on your web site.

The Lycee Amadou Diallo attended in Bangkok was the French Lycee and the address: 29 Sathorn Tai Road, Bangkok 10120. Tel:287-15-99. I don't know if they have retained any further records about him there. However, they would be able to attest as to his attendance in the early part of the nineties.

Yours Sincerely,
Michael James Reid
(Retired Teacher of English)

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