February 4, 1999: Cops Shoot Amadou Bailo Diallo 19 Times!

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A Brief History

On February 4, 1999, New York City police fired 41 bullets at an unarmed immigrant, Amadou Bailo Diallo, hitting him 19 times!

Digging Deeper

Digging deeper, we find the aftermath of this shooting going across the country like a tidal wave, with cross currents of both support for the police yet condemnation for the officers involved.

Early morning in the Bronx on that tragic day, fate paired Amadou Bailo Diallo, a 23-year-old born in Liberia, with 4 undercover NYPD officers who were on the lookout for a serial rapist known to be armed.  With the misfortune of looking similar to the suspect, the innocent and unarmed Diallo was accosted by the officers who say they identified themselves, but that Diallo did not stop and show his hands as directed by them.

Shrouded by a poorly lit doorway, Diallo reached into his clothing and pulled out his wallet, which an officer mistook for him drawing a gun!  The officer yelled “gun!”, and the other policemen started shooting.  When one of them tripped and fell backwards, the other officers thought he had been shot, and the police barrage did not stop until 41 shots were fired and the hapless immigrant was dead from 19 bullet wounds.

Predictably, this incident set off a firestorm of anti-police fervor across the country and the NYPD was accused of racism, brutality and racial profiling.  The officers involved were indicted for 2nd degree murder and tried but were acquitted by a multi-racial jury.  (The trial had been moved from New York City because it was thought the officers would not get an impartial jury there.)

One of the officers involved, Kenneth Boss, had previously been involved in a fatal shooting in 1997, that time of an armed suspect.  He is the only officer of the 4 who is still active on the NYPD, though he had been given unarmed non-patrol duties after the Diallo incident.  In October of 2012, the police commissioner restored Boss’ authority to go armed; in response to which Diallo’s family was not happy, and voiced their protest.

Diallo has been memorialized in numerous books and articles, as well as in a great number songs by popular artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Wyclef Jean and Ziggy Marley.

Something that police critics just do not seem to get, is that if people stand still with their hands plainly visible, they do not get shot!  Even with the obvious problems inherent in language barriers, you would think it is obvious not to start yanking something out of your pocket when held at gunpoint.  To prevent similar horrible tragedies, perhaps we need to educate school children about how to act when approached by an police or make public service announcements like they do for drugs and drunk driving awareness.

Question for students (and subscribers): Was this shooting justified?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information on guns in America, see…

Baker, James Jay and Wayne Lapierre.  Shooting Straight: Telling the Truth About Guns in America.  Regnery Publishing, 2002.

Mcelvain, James P.  Police Shootings and Citizen Behavior (Criminal Justice: Recent Scholarship).  LFB Scholarly Publishing, 2008.


About Author

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.