Killing of Amadou Diallo

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Killing of Amadou Diallo
Amadou Diallo.png
Amadou Diallo
DateFebruary 4, 1999; 23 years ago (1999-02-04)
Time12:40 AM EST
LocationNew York City, U.S.
TypePolice killing, shooting
ParticipantsEdward McMellon
Sean Carroll
Kenneth Boss
Richard Murphy
Deaths1 (Amadou Diallo)
ChargesSecond-degree murder
Reckless endangerment
VerdictNot guilty
LitigationLawsuit filed against city and officers for $61 million; settled for $3 million
Daniels, et al. v. the City of New York (class-action lawsuit)

In the early hours of February 4, 1999, an unarmed 23-year-old Guinean student named Amadou Diallo (born September 2, 1975) was shot by four New York City Police Department plainclothes officers: Sean Carroll, Richard Murphy, Edward McMellon, and Kenneth Boss. Carroll would later claim to have mistaken him for a rape suspect from one year earlier.

The four officers, who were part of the now-defunct Street Crime Unit, were charged with second-degree murder and acquitted at trial in Albany, New York.[1] A firestorm of controversy erupted after the event, as the circumstances of the shooting prompted outrage both inside and outside of New York City. Issues such as police brutality, racial profiling, and contagious shooting were central to the ensuing controversy.

Early life[edit]

Amadou Diallo was one of four children born to Saikou and Kadijatou Diallo, and part of a historic Fulbe trading family in Guinea. He was born in Sinoe County in Liberia on September 2, 1975,[2] while his father was working there, and while growing up followed his family to Togo, Singapore, Thailand, and back to Guinea. In September 1996, he followed other family members to New York City and started a business with a cousin. According to his family's lawyer he sought to remain in the United States by filing a political asylum application falsely claiming that he was from Mauritania and that his parents had been killed in fighting.[3] He sold video cassettes, gloves, and socks on the sidewalk along 14th Street during the day.[4]


In the early morning of February 4, 1999, Diallo was standing near his building after returning from a meal. At about 12:40 a.m., officers Edward McMellon, Sean Carroll, Kenneth Boss and Richard Murphy were looking for an alleged serial rapist in the Soundview section of the Bronx. While driving down Wheeler Avenue, the police officers stopped their unidentified car and interrogated Diallo, who was in front of his apartment. When they ordered Diallo to show his hands, he supposedly ran into the apartment and reached into his pocket to show his wallet.[5] Soon afterwards, assuming Diallo was drawing a firearm, the four officers fired 41 shots[6] with semi-automatic pistols,[7][1][8] hitting Diallo 19 times, fatally wounding him. Eyewitness Sherrie Elliott stated that the police continued to shoot even though Diallo was already down.[5][9]

The investigation found no weapons on or near Diallo; what he had pulled out of his jacket was a wallet. The internal NYPD investigation ruled that the officers had acted within policy, based on what a reasonable police officer would have done in the same circumstances. Nonetheless, the Diallo shooting led to a review of police training policy and of the use of full metal jacket (FMJ) bullets.

On March 25, 1999, a Bronx grand jury indicted the four officers on charges of second-degree murder and reckless endangerment.[10] On December 16, a court ordered a change of venue to Albany, New York because of pretrial publicity. On February 25, 2000, after three days of deliberation, a jury composed of four black and eight white jurors acquitted the officers of all charges.[5]


In April 2000, Diallo's mother and father filed a $61 million lawsuit against the city and the officers, charging gross negligence, wrongful death, racial profiling, and other violations of Diallo's civil rights. In March 2004, they accepted a $3 million settlement, one of the largest in the City of New York for a single man with no dependents under New York State's "wrongful death law", which limits damages to financial loss by the deceased person's next of kin.[11] Anthony H. Gair, representing the Diallo family, argued that federal common law should apply.[further explanation needed]

In April 2002, as a result of the killing of Diallo and other controversial actions, the Street Crime Unit was disbanded. In 2003, Diallo's mother published a memoir, My Heart Will Cross This Ocean: My Story, My Son, Amadou, with the help of author Craig Wolff.

Diallo's death became an issue in the 2005 New York City mayoral election. Bronx borough president and mayoral candidate Fernando Ferrer, who had protested against the circumstances of the killing at the time, was criticized by the Diallo family and many others for telling a meeting of police sergeants that although the shooting had been a tragedy, the officers had been "over-indicted".[12]

Boss, one of the four officers implicated, had shot another black man dead in 1997.[13][14] After the trial Boss was reassigned to desk duty, but in October 2012, Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly restored Boss' ability to carry a firearm. As of 2012, he was the only one of the four officers still working for the NYPD.[15] In 2015, he was promoted to sergeant in accordance to police policy, which is not subject to review by top department officials.[16] He retired from policework in 2019.[17]

A report from Capital New York[18] reported that 85 IP addresses belonging to the New York Police Department had made changes to Wikipedia pages about NYPD misconduct and also to articles about people killed in police interventions, including this article.[19] One of these editions stated that "Officer Kenneth Boss had previously been involved in an incident in which an unarmed man was shot, but continued to work as a police officer" and was changed to "Officer Kenneth Boss was previously involved in an incident in which a man armed was shot.”[18] Two policemen associated with these edits were reported to receive only "minor reprimands".[20][21]

In April 2021, Diallo's mother was interviewed about her reaction to the conviction of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd.[22]

Cultural references to Diallo[edit]


  • The song "I Know You Don't Care" by Ziggy Marley, Bunny Wailer, Buju Banton, Damian "Junior Gong" Marley, Morgan Heritage & Yami Bolo (2001) is in direct response to the acquittal of the officers accused of murdering Diallo. In the chorus Ziggy Marley sings, "Code of silence you say, yes your actions speak so loud and clear, Diallo's killers going free, Paid by society, And I know you don't care about me."
  • Mentioned in the song ‘Senegal’ by Akon.
  • Rapper Fredro Starr mentioned Diallo in the song “What If”
  • The music of rapper 88-Keys;[23]
  • Bruce Springsteen's song "American Skin (41 Shots)";[24]
  • "Diallo" by Wyclef Jean;[25]
  • "New York City Cops" off The Strokes' debut album Is This It had the incident as the inspiration.[26] Singer Julian Casablancas revealed that this was a political song influenced by the shooting of Amadou Diallo in a March 2018 Vulture interview.[27]
  • "I Find It Hard to Say (Rebel)" by Lauryn Hill;[28]
  • "Lament for the Late AD" by Terry Callier.[29]
  • The Public Enemy album There's a Poison Goin' On features a song titled "41:19" based on the number of rounds fired at and striking Diallo and contains lyrics concerning police harassment and violence.
  • The song "W.O.L.V.E.S." by Krumbsnatcha and M.O.P., which appeared on the soundtrack for the 2001 film Training Day ("What happened to Diallo was a muthafuckin' shame").[30]
  • Electro pop band Le Tigre lamented the Diallo shooting in their song "Bang! Bang!", which ends with a vocal chorus counting numbers that ends with 41, the number of shots fired.[31]
  • In his song "The Other White Meat", which deals with police brutality and racism, New York rapper Immortal Technique tells the police "I got 41 reasons to tell you to suck a dick" and "Guns don't look like wallets", clearly referencing the shooting and counting every bullet fired as a reason.[32]
  • The incident was briefly mentioned by rapper Heems in his song "WOYY": "Diallo got shot when he said the block was hot."[33]
  • The piece "Amadou Diallo", included in the album Ethnic Stew and Brew by jazz trumpeter Roy Campbell, Jr., was inspired by the shooting, ending with a rapid burst of notes replicating the 41 gunshots.[34]
  • The incident also served as the basis for Erykah Badu's track "A.D. 2000" (the abbreviation standing for Diallo's initials), from the album Mama's Gun. Rather than singing a condemnation of the NYPD, as had most other artists who were incensed by the event, Badu chose to sing an elegy which, while noting the tragedy of Diallo's killing, also observes the furor over the circumstances, which she viewed as likely to be temporary: "No you won't be namin' no buildings after me/To go down dilapidated ooh/No you won't be namin' no buildings after me/My name will be misstated, surely".
  • In his album The Beautiful Struggle, Talib Kweli speaks of "Brother Amadou as [...] a modern day martyr."[35] Kweli makes further reference to the shooting in his song "The Proud": "It's in they job description to terminate the threat/So 41 shots to the body is what he can expect".[36]
  • The underground rap artist Milo referenced Amadou quoting, "Surrounded by Anglos in Almelo, thinkin 'bout Amadou Diallo"[37]
  • The metal band Trivium wrote the song Contempt Breeds Contamination from their third album The Crusade about Diallo's death.
  • Emawk has a song titled "Amadou.jpg" on his EP "Ifievercantmakeit.Jpg"
  • The killing is referenced in Mischief Brew's song "Thanks, Bastards!" with lines like "For every time your gun goes off, a new rebel is born / So when there's 41 bullets / There's 41 thousand thorns in your side" and "Found a wallet, not a gun."


  • In 2000, a group of human rights organizations completed The Day After Diallo, a short video about police violence against people of color in the context of the killing of Amadou Diallo. The video was co-produced by WITNESS, New York City PoliceWatch and The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.[38][39]
  • In the 2002 film Phone Booth, the caller (voiced by Kiefer Sutherland) warns the main character Stu (played by Colin Farrell) not to move, telling him "you can get shot 41 times just for pulling out your wallet".

Visual arts[edit]

  • A drawing by Art Spiegelman showing a police officer at a shooting gallery with a banner reading "41 shots 10¢" was featured on the cover of The New Yorker on March 8, 1999. 250 police officers picketed the magazine's headquarters in response.[40]


  • In Law & Order, Season 13, Episode 7, “Open Season”, where an alleged cop-shooter is acquitted, Detective Ed Green references the killing as follows: “Yeah, well, you tell that to Amadou Diallo’s family…this whole blue wall thing, dinosaur.”


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Medaglia, Angelica. "Amadou Diallo". The New York Times. Retrieved August 22, 2017.
  2. ^ Thompson, Ginger; Garry Pierre-Pierre (February 12, 1999). "Portrait of Slain Immigrant: Big Dreams and a Big Heart". New York Times. Retrieved August 22, 2017.
  3. ^ Waldman, Amy (March 17, 1999). "His Lawyer Says Diallo Lied on Request for Political Asylum". The New York Times. Retrieved August 22, 2017.
  4. ^ Cooper, Michael (February 5, 1999). "Officers in Bronx Fire 41 Shots, And an Unarmed Man Is Killed". New York Times. Retrieved August 22, 2017.
  5. ^ a b c EDT, Jorge Solis On 6/18/20 at 10:33 AM (June 18, 2020). "Who was Amadou Diallo and why is the story of his death still relevant?". Newsweek. Retrieved March 17, 2021.
  6. ^ Cooper, Michael (February 5, 1999). "Officers in Bronx Fire 41 Shots, And an Unarmed Man Is Killed". The New York Times. Retrieved August 22, 2017.
  7. ^ Sha Be Allah (February 4, 2015). "Today In Black History: An Unarmed Amadou Diallo Is Shot 41 Times By NYPD 16 Years Ago". The Source. Retrieved May 9, 2018.
  8. ^ Malcolm Gladwell. How We Think Without Thinking: Malcolm Gladwell on Great Decision Makers (2005).
  9. ^ Fritsch, Jane (February 26, 2000). "The Diallo Verdict: The Overview; 4 Officers In Diallo Shooting Are Acquitted Of All Charges". The New York Times. Retrieved August 22, 2017.
  10. ^ "New York Officers Charged With Murder". Los Angeles Times. Associated Press. April 1, 1999. Retrieved August 22, 2017.
  11. ^ Moses, Ray. "Opening Statements: The Amadou Diallo Killing". Center for Criminal Justice Advocacy. Retrieved August 22, 2017.
  12. ^ Cardwell, Diane (March 18, 2005). "For Ferrer and the Police, a Shifting Relationship". The New York Times. Retrieved August 22, 2017.
  13. ^ Amy Goodman; Juan González, (February 14, 2000). "One of Four Police Officers on Trial for the Murder of Amadou Diallo Killed Before". Democracy Now! Retrieved August 22, 2017.
  14. ^ Joseph P. Fried, (April 6, 1999). "Diallo Defendant Is Cleared in a '97 Killing". The New York Times Retrieved April 16, 2021.
  15. ^ Rzuderman, Wendy; J. David Goodman (October 2, 2012). "Diallo's Mother Asks Why Officer Who Shot at Her Son Will Get Gun Back". The New York Times. Retrieved August 22, 2017.
  16. ^ Morrison, Aaron (December 17, 2015). "Do Black Lives Matter? NYPD Officer Kenneth Boss Promoted To Sergeant 16 Years After Killing Unarmed Amadou Diallo". International Business Times. Retrieved August 22, 2017.
  17. ^ Parascandola, Rocco (July 31, 2019) Remaining officer in shooting of unarmed man retires. The Daily News of Newburyport . Retrieved January 30, 2021.
  18. ^ a b Weill, Kelly (March 13, 2015). "Edits to Wikipedia pages on Bell, Garner, Diallo traced to 1 Police Plaza". Capital New York. Archived from the original on March 13, 2015.
  19. ^ Popper, Ben (March 13, 2015). "The NYPD may be editing the Wikipedia pages of people it killed". The Verge. Retrieved March 17, 2021.
  20. ^ "2 NYPD Officers Who Edited Wikipedia Pages Face Slap on Wrist". DNAinfo New York. Retrieved March 17, 2021.
  21. ^ Vincent, James (March 17, 2015). "NYPD officers who edited Wikipedia entry on Eric Garner won't be punished". The Verge. Retrieved March 17, 2021.
  22. ^ "Amadou Diallo's mother talks Chauvin verdict: 'No time for celebration'". April 21, 2021.
  23. ^ Hip Hop For Respect EP, "A Tree Never Grown", Verse 1
  24. ^ Susman, Gary (April 23, 2003). "American Skin". Entertainment Weekly.
  25. ^ Ed Thompson, (October 12, 2006). "Trivium - The Crusade". IGN. Retrieved August 22, 2017.
  26. ^ "Revisiting the Strokes' electric performance of anti-police brutality anthem 'New York City Cops', 2001". June 8, 2020.
  27. ^ Marchese, David (March 12, 2018). "Julian Casablancas on His Album, the Strokes, and How Money Ruined Modern Pop". Retrieved April 16, 2018.
  28. ^ Sarah Murphy, (October 17, 2016). "Lauryn Hill Unveils New Version of "I Find It Hard to Say (Rebel)"". Retrieved June 3, 2020.
  29. ^ Denise Benson. "Terry Callier Alive". Retrieved August 22, 2017.
  30. ^ "Krumb Snatcha (Ft. M.O.P.) – W.O.L.V.E.S."
  31. ^ Nelson, Chris (April 2, 2001). "Springsteen, Public Enemy, Le Tigre Fire Back At Diallo Shooting". Retrieved August 22, 2017., MTV. Retrieved August 22, 2017.
  32. ^ "Immortal Technique – The Other White Meat Lyrics", Retrieved August 22, 2017.
  33. ^ "Heems - WOYY Lyrics", Retrieved August 22, 2017.
  34. ^ Hendrickson, Tad. Ethnic Stew and Brew, Original Liner Notes.
  35. ^ Talib Kweli feat. John Legend. "Around My Way", In The Beautiful Struggle, 2004.
  36. ^ Talib Kweli "The Proud", Quality
  37. ^ "Mythbuilding exercise No. 9". Retrieved August 15, 2020.
  38. ^ "The Day After Diallo". The Hub / WITNESS Media Archive. May 13, 2008. Retrieved September 25, 2017.
  39. ^ NYC Policewatch/Ella Baker Center for Human Rights (2000). "The Day After Diallo". Internet Archive. Retrieved September 25, 2017.
  40. ^ Wadler, Joyce (March 5, 1999). "Seeking More Than a Smile From Cartoons". The New York Times. Retrieved January 3, 2020.

External links[edit]