Shooting of Amadou Diallo

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Death of Amadou Diallo
Amadou Diallo.png
Amadou Diallo
DateFebruary 4, 1999 (1999-02-04)
Time12:40 AM EST
LocationNew York City, U.S.
ParticipantsEdward McMellon
Sean Carroll
Kenneth Boss
Richard Murphy
Deaths1 (Amadou Diallo)
ChargesSecond-degree murder
Reckless endangerment
VerdictAll not 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, a 23-year-old Guinean immigrant named Amadou Diallo (born September 2, 1975) was fatally 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 Crimes Unit, were charged with second-degree murder and acquitted at trial in Albany, New York.[1] Diallo was unarmed and 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., police officers Edward McMellon, Sean Carroll, Kenneth Boss and Richard Murphy – all in plain clothes – drove by. Carroll later claimed that Diallo matched the general description of a serial rapist reported a year earlier, or that he might have been a "lookout" for drug dealers operating in the area.[further explanation needed][5][6][7]

The officers[who?] later claimed that,

Diallo ran up the outside steps toward his apartment house doorway at their approach, ignoring their orders to stop and 'show his hands'. The porch lightbulb was out and Diallo was backlit by the inside vestibule light, showing only a silhouette. Diallo then reached into his jacket and withdrew his wallet. Seeing the man holding a small square object, Carroll yelled 'Gun!' to alert his colleagues. The officers opened fire on Diallo, claiming that they believed he was holding a gun. During the shooting, lead officer McMellon tripped backward off the front stairs, causing the other officers to believe he had been shot.

However, a witness testified that they shot with no warning.[6] The four officers fired 41 shots[8] with semi-automatic pistols,[9] striking Diallo 19 times.[1][10] Diallo had recently applied for political asylum but had lied on his application, thus it has been suggested that he may have feared the police were with immigration services. It has also been suggested that Diallo's English may not have been good enough to understand that the officers were plainclothes police, and he instead may have feared that they were going to rob him.[11][12]

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.[13] On December 16, a court ordered a change of venue to Albany, New York because of pretrial publicity. On February 25, 2000, after two days of deliberation, a jury in Albany acquitted the officers of all charges.


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.[14] 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 the circumstances of the killing at the time, was criticized by the Diallo family and many other for telling a meeting of police sergeants that although the shooting had been a tragedy, the officers had been "over-indicted".[15]

Boss had shot another unarmed black man dead in 1997.[16] 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.[17] In 2015 he was promoted to sergeant in accordance to police policy, which is not subject to review by top department officials.[18] He retired from policework in 2019.[19]

Cultural references to Diallo[edit]

Investigative journalism[edit]

  • Malcolm Gladwell devotes the sixth chapter of his book Blink: the Power of Thinking Without Thinking to the Amadou Diallo shooting. Gladwell spent more than a year interviewing cognitive psychologists, trying to understand how the psychology of a police officer's instant response to an object in an innocent black person's hand might differ from his/her response to an object in a white person's hand.


  • The music of rapper 88-Keys;[20]
  • Bruce Springsteen's song "American Skin (41 Shots)";[21]
  • "Diallo" by Wyclef Jean;[22]
  • "New York City Cops" off The Strokes' debut album Is This It had the incident as the inspiration.[23] Singer Julian Casablancas revealed that this was a political song influenced by the shooting of Amadou Diallo in a March 2018 Vulture interview.[24]
  • "I Find It Hard to Say (Rebel)" by Lauryn Hill;[25]
  • "Lament for the Late AD" by Terry Callier.[26]
  • 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").[27]
  • 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.[28]
  • 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.[29]
  • The incident was briefly mentioned by rapper Heems in his song "WOYY": "Diallo got shot when he said the block was hot."[30]
  • "41 Shots" a song by rapper and poet Gina Loring (available on YouTube)
  • "Cop Shot" by Dead Prez
  • "One Dead Cop" by Leftover Crack
  • "Contempt Breeds Contamination" by Trivium
  • 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.[31]
  • 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."[32] 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".[33]
  • The underground rap artist Milo referenced Amadou quoting, "Surrounded by Anglos in Almelo, thinkin 'bout Amadou Diallo"[34]
  • The composer Joel Thompson named the third movement in his choral composition, "The Seven Last Words of the Unarmed", after Diallo, utilizing a final voicemail left to his mother for the lyrical inspiration, "Mom, I'm going to college."
  • Rebel Diaz reference Diallo in their song "La Patrulla" along with a number of other shootings by police and neighborhood watch, saying "Amadou Diallo only had a wallet. Trayvon Martin couldn't go to college."
  • Mike Ladd album Welcome to the Afterfuture (2000), track 4 “Takes More Than 41” and track 13 “Feb 4 ‘99 (For All Those Killed by Cops)
  • "41 Shots" by Merauder on their 2003 album Bluetality.
  • Hell You Talmbout
  • Amadou Diallo is mentioned in the Beastie Boys song "We Got The", on the album To the 5 Boroughs
  • Amadou Diallo is mentioned by Royce Da 5'9" on the song "Father Figure" by Tobe Nwigwe. Royce Da 5'9" says he would like to "pop a cop or two" to honor the deaths of Breonna Taylor and Diallo.
  • in "Feleğin Çemberine Kırk Kurşun"(by Saian Sakulta Salkım) Amadou Diallo is mentioned as an example of extrajudicial executions to immigrant people.


  • Amadou Diallo appears as a character in Alfredo Vea's novel The Mexican Flyboy (U Oklahoma Press, 2016).
  • The shooting of Amadou Diallo is referenced in Edwidge Danticat's novel The Dew Breaker (Alfred A. Knopf, 2004).
  • The shooting of Amadou Diallo is referenced in Harlan Coben's novel Tell No One (Orion Books Ltd., 2001).


  • 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.[35][36]
  • The 2003 film Phone Booth has the sniper antagonist reference Diallo's killing, while accusing the NYPD of trigger-happy behavior.


  • Season 1, Episode 14 of The Boondocks, "The Block is Hot," features the shooting of Amadou Diallo as the main plot point.
  • The cultural and political backlash following the shooting of Diallo was heavily featured in episode 8 of Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends in which journalist and documentary filmmaker, Louis Theroux, discusses the shooting with community leaders including Khalid Abdul Muhammad and Al Sharpton. Theroux attends a rally in which Sharpton and 28 others purposefully block traffic on Wall Street in protest of the lack of action taken upon the officers involved.
  • Diallo's death is referenced in season 6 of NYPD Blue, episode 20 "I'll Draw You a Map." The ex-boyfriend of a woman whose husband is shot in their apartment expresses concern that he'll end up with the same fate as Diallo. The detectives discuss later in the episode that they're just trying to do the right thing and not all cops are like the ones who shot Diallo. It was also covered in the next episode, "Voir Dire This."
  • Diallo's death is also referenced in November, 2000, in season 11, episode 6 of Law & Order, in which a witness describing the racial tensions caused by young white police officers patrolling black communities states, "that's how you wind up with 41 shots in some poor black guy coming home from work."
  • The shooting, the trial and the media coverage surrounding both are the focus of the third episode of the Netflix show, "Trial by Media." The episode, entitled "41 Shots" features headlines, video clips and interviews that provide context to the events resulting from the shooting of Diallo.

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.[37]

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. ^ Forero, Juan (August 2, 2000). "Serial Rapist Gets 155 Years; Judge Suggests His Crimes Contributed to Diallo Shooting". The New York Times. Retrieved August 22, 2017.
  6. ^ a b 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.
  7. ^ Kappstatter, Bob; Rafael A. Olmeda; Goldiner, Dave (April 8, 1999). "Bronx Suspect Confesses To 5-year Rape Spree". Daily News. Retrieved August 22, 2017.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ Malcolm Gladwell. How We Think Without Thinking: Malcolm Gladwell on Great Decision Makers (2005).
  11. ^ Roy, Beth. 41 Shots... and Counting: What Amadou Diallo's Story Teaches Us about Policing, Race, and Justice. Syracuse University Press, 2009, pp.44-45
  12. ^ Heather MacDonald, Diallo Truth, Diallo Falsehood, City Journal, 1999
  13. ^ "New York Officers Charged With Murder". Los Angeles Times. Associated Press. April 1, 1999. Retrieved August 22, 2017.
  14. ^ Moses, Ray. "Opening Statements: The Amadou Diallo Killing". Center for Criminal Justice Advocacy. Retrieved August 22, 2017.
  15. ^ Cardwell, Diane (March 18, 2005). "For Ferrer and the Police, a Shifting Relationship". The New York Times. Retrieved August 22, 2017.
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ 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.
  19. ^ Parascandola, Rocco (July 31, 2019) Remaining officer in shooting of unarmed man retires. The Daily News of Newburyport . Retrieved January 30, 2021.
  20. ^ Hip Hop For Respect EP, "A Tree Never Grown", Verse 1
  21. ^ Susman, Gary (April 23, 2003). "American Skin". Entertainment Weekly.
  22. ^ Ed Thompson, (October 12, 2006). "Trivium - The Crusade". IGN. Retrieved August 22, 2017.
  23. ^
  24. ^ Marchese, David (March 12, 2018). "Julian Casablancas on His Album, the Strokes, and How Money Ruined Modern Pop". Retrieved April 16, 2018.
  25. ^ Sarah Murphy, (October 17, 2016). "Lauryn Hill Unveils New Version of "I Find It Hard to Say (Rebel)"". Retrieved June 3, 2020.
  26. ^ Denise Benson. "Terry Callier Alive". Retrieved August 22, 2017.
  27. ^ [1]
  28. ^ Nelson, Chris (April 2, 2001). "Springsteen, Public Enemy, Le Tigre Fire Back At Diallo Shooting". Retrieved August 22, 2017., MTV. Retrieved August 22, 2017.
  29. ^ "Immortal Technique – The Other White Meat Lyrics", Retrieved August 22, 2017.
  30. ^ "Heems - WOYY Lyrics", Retrieved August 22, 2017.
  31. ^ Hendrickson, Tad. Ethnic Stew and Brew, Original Liner Notes.
  32. ^ Talib Kweli feat. John Legend. "Around My Way", In The Beautiful Struggle, 2004.
  33. ^ Talib Kweli "The Proud", Quality
  34. ^ "Mythbuilding exercise No. 9". Retrieved August 15, 2020.
  35. ^ "The Day After Diallo". The Hub / WITNESS Media Archive. May 13, 2008. Retrieved 2017-09-25.
  36. ^ NYC Policewatch/Ella Baker Center for Human Rights (2000). "The Day After Diallo". Internet Archive. Retrieved 2017-09-25.
  37. ^ Wadler, Joyce (5 March 1999). "Seeking More Than a Smile From Cartoons". The New York Times. Retrieved 3 January 2020.

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