Being innocent in the US is no guarantee of remaining alive if the police have their way. Four white plainclothes police officers pumped 41 bullets on February 4 into Amadou Ahmed Diallo, a 22-year-old Muslim immigrant from Guinea, the West African State, as he entered the Bronx apartment building where he lived, killing him instantly.
Black activist Al Sharpton, who organised a vigil at the site of the shooting on February 9, asked at a forum on police brutality on the night of the shooting, ‘Are we talking about policing or are we talking about a firing squad?’ He pointed out that Amadou must have fallen to the ground after being hit twice or thrice. Why was it necessary for the police to continue shooting when the victim was already on the ground, bleeding from gunshot wounds?
And Amnesty International USA said reports on the shooting ‘suggest (it) conforms to patterns of police brutality and unjustifiable force that we have identified over the last several years’ within the New York Police Department (NYPD). Last October, Amnesty issued a scathing report about human rights abuses in the US, especially relating to police practices and how minorities are abused (see lead story in Crescent International, November 1-15, 1998).
Amadou ‘Ahmed’ Diallo, 22, was unarmed. The shooting once again highlights the trigger-happy nature of the New York police who shoot first and ask questions later. In Amadou’s case, there was no opportunity even to ask questions.
Amadou Diallo was a hard-working, practising Muslim with no criminal record. The police had gone to the area allegedly to investigate the shooting some days earlier of a cab driver. They ended up shooting another innocent man. And in a rebuff to the New York mayor, Kadiadou Diallo, the victim’s mother, refused offers of financial help to transport his body back to Guinea.
A quiet person, Amadou was an avid pro basketball fan who neither smoked nor drank, sent money to his parents in West Africa and talked about going to Baruch College to get a formal education. Relatives and friends made plans to send his body home. ‘We have a very undemocratic society back home, and then we come here. We don’t expect to be killed by law enforcement officers,’ Demba Sanyang, a friend of Amadou’s, told the Times. Now he will know better. America is a land of killer cops.
New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, whose get tough policy has frequently resulted in such coldblooded murders, asked city residents to be patient and to wait for the facts to emerge. What other facts need to emerge? That the police mistook their man; that they panicked or that Amadou may have been suspected of having a criminal record?
None of the officers involved in the shooting had been questioned by February 10; they were merely put on administrative leave. According to The New York Times, three of the officers have been involved in previous shootings. The Times said this fact is unusual in a department where more than 90 percent of all officers never fire their weapons in the line of duty.
Working 12-hour days as a peddler on Manhattan’s 14th Street, Amadou sent much of his earnings home to his parents in West Africa, friends said. Early on February 4 as he entered the vestibule of his Bronx apartment building, four undercover police officers investigating a recent shooting of a cab driver approached him and identified themselves.
Police sources said Amadou reached into his pocket perhaps to get his papers to identify himself and the officers, who are all white, thought he was going for a gun. They fired 41 shots, striking him 19 times. A beeper and wallet were all that were found beside his bullet-riddled body. He died at the scene.
While an investigation has been ordered into the shooting, little is expected to come of it. In July 1997, a Haitian immigrant, Abner Luema was sodomised with a toilet plunger after being arrested by the police. The use of such exotic methods is becoming more frequent. Often, these incidents never come to light. The ones that do, reflect the mindset of a police force that has clearly gone out of control.
It is their political bosses who encourage such behaviour. Mayor Giuliani is an unabashed advocate of shoot-first, ask questions later policy. In the past he has been quick to defend officers accused by community leaders of reckless shootings.