On February 4, 1999, Kadiatou Diallo received a phone call that changed her life forever. Her 23-year-old son, Amadou Diallo, was idly standing in front of the brick building where he lived in Soundview when he was violently gunned down by New York City police officers.
Amadou Diallo had chatted with his mom five days before the shooting, talking about how he had fallen in love with a girl named Bente — and how he had saved up $9,000 to pay for college tuition so that he could fulfill his dream of becoming a teacher.
Kadiatou Diallo was at her home in Conakry, Guinea, when she learned that a car carrying four police officers shot her son. They claimed that they suspected him of holding a gun. It turned out to be either his wallet or a pager, reports indicated.
Forty-one bullets rained down on Amadou Diallo, giving him no chance to survive. According to the New York Times, the West African immigrant didn’t have a criminal record. He was shot at 12:44 a.m. and had been working as a street peddler, saving up for his future. Inspector Michael Collins, a police spokesman, told reporters that investigators at the scene of the shooting never found a weapon on — or near — Diallo.
20 yrs ago, an unarmed African immigrant was shot 19 times by 4 white NYPD cops. He died.
Protests followed. Anger grew over the response from the city, led by then-Mayor @RudyGiuliani. Lawsuits were filed. Cops were acquitted.
What has changed since?https://t.co/bYkqtfpQ6E
— THE CITY (@TheCityNY) February 2, 2019
Mamadou Diallo, the victim’s uncle, described his anger to the New York Times after the shooting.
”He was a skinny guy. Why would the police shoot somebody of that nature 30 or 40 times? We see the police and we give them all the respect we have,” he said.
The four officers who shot Amadou Diallo were part of the city’s street crime unit, and were tasked with removing guns from the streets. They were not in uniform, and were carrying 9-millimeter semiautomatic service pistols that held 16 bullets each. Three of the officers — Caroll, McMellon and Boss — had shot others before.
The New York Times reported that police department rules specifically state that “deadly force can be used only when officers fear for their lives or the lives of others.” The officers also did not communicate to dispatch about any concerning situation before they approached Diallo. Only after the shooting did they radio in, and neighbors called 911.
Kadiatou Diallo has made it her mission to keep her son’s memory alive. But sadly, little progress has been made to reform policing, she told New York Magazine. Data reveals that even more stops of blacks and Latinos are being made compared to Caucasians. Sadly, death has become a constant.
“Every year, I’m comforting another family. I know one mother from Guinea also who had her son killed by the NYPD. I comforted her, I comforted other moms, like Eric Garner’s mom and Sean Bell’s mother. Every year, all these families,” she said.
Kadiatou Diallo’s niece, Aissatou Diallo, emphasized that “to kill an animal you don’t need 41 bullets.” Since the shooting, the Amadou Diallo Foundation was organized to award scholarship aid to 30 students of African descent — or who have immigrated to the U.S. from Africa. Helping others like her son has helped her heal, but she can never move on.
“Losing a child — I don’t wish that to any mother,” she said. “Unfortunately, many have had to go through that pain like me, having to see their children be killed in a very, very similar way. It’s not something that you can remove and put aside. No. It’s always with you, you live with it, you breathe with that, you sleep with that, you wake up with the bad feeling. I don’t care how many years pass, if you live 20 years later, like me, or 50 years later, like other moms. It’s the same.”
Jenn Rolnick Borchetta, a civil rights attorney with The Bronx Defenders, said the shooting served as a “horrible example” of officers believing that all non-Caucasian people “pose a threat.”
Eventually, the four officers were acquitted, and a federal judge ruled in 2013 that stop-and-frisk was an “unconstitutional policy of indirect racial profiling.”