This is part II of an exclusive series looking at the impact of incidents involving NYPD infamous shootings of unarmed black youth and their families. Click here to read Part I.
NEW YORK (MintPress)–The killing of 18-year-old Ramarley Graham came almost exactly 13 years to the day of another infamous shooting incident involving the NYPD and an unarmed black youth.
Early on the morning of Feb. 4, 1999, Amadou Diallo, a 23-year-old Guinean immigrant, was standing near his apartment building in the Bronx when four plain-clothed NYPD officers drove by in a Ford Taurus.
Thinking that Diallo resembled a since-captured well-armed serial rapist with 51 victims over a five-year spree, the officers, Edward McMellon, Sean Carroll, Kenneth Boss and Richard Murphy, stopped and approached him.
The officers later claimed they loudly identified themselves as members of the NYPD and that Diallo ran up the outside steps toward his doorway when they approached, ignoring their orders to stop and “show his hands.” They said he then reached into his jacket and took out a small square object, which they believed was a gun.
After Carroll yelled “gun,” the officers opened fire on Diallo. The officers fired a combined total of 41 shots, 19 of which hit Diallo, who was killed instantly.
The post-shooting investigation did not find any weapons on Diallo’s body, the object he had pulled out of his jacket was a wallet.
But an internal NYPD investigation ruled the officers had acted within policy, based on what a reasonable police officer would have done in the same circumstances with the information they had.
On March 25, 1999 a Bronx grand jury indicted the four officers on charges of second-degree murder and reckless endangerment. In December of that year, an appellate court ordered the venue to be moved to Albany, N.Y., the state capital, stating that pretrial publicity had made it impossible for a fair trial to be held in New York City.
On Feb. 25, 2000, a mixed-race jury, after two days of deliberation, found the officers innocent on all counts.
Diallo’s death, the change of venue and the verdict each triggered massive demonstrations against police brutality and racial profiling, resulting in more than 1,700 arrests.
Among those arrested in the daily protests at the entrance of One Police Plaza were former Mayor David Dinkins, Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, Congressman Charlie Rangel and actress Susan Sarandon. Charges against the protesters were later dropped.
Murphy and McMellon both went on to work for the New York Fire Department, while Boss is still with the NYPD. Last year, he got his service weapon back.
Progress or regression?
That caused Diallo’s mother, Kadi Diallo, to relive the horror of her son’s death yet again. “I’m shocked to learn this because [NYPD] Commissioner Kelly indicated that that would not happen,” she said at the time, adding that the ruling was ‘the second shooting of my son.’”
In 2004, the City of New York agreed to pay the family $3 million to settle a lawsuit stemming from his killing.
“Our hope was that the arbitrary stop and frisk program would stop,” says the family’s attorney, Anthony Gair. “But it didn’t.”
“I do not think that I will ever find closure,” she tells Mint Press News. “But I believe the work I do in my son’s memory is helping to bring healing in my everyday life.”
Diallo has established the Amadou Diallo Foundation to honor her son. “We continue to raise awareness and speak about racial healing and better policing,” she said.
There is also a scholarship fund to help immigrant students. “My son came to America for a reason. He wanted to gain higher education in an American college,” she explained. “He was selling things on the street to save money to pay his way for college. And I can see him through the eyes of so many students who came from Africa for the same reason.”
Recently, she added — “We are also working in Africa to help aspiring young African students get access to computers. As you know, my son Amadou’s goal was to get a diploma in computer sciences.”
Diallo published her memoir, “My Heart Will Cross This Ocean: My Story, My Son, Amadou,” which she wrote with the help of author Craig Wolff in 2004. In the preface, she wrote, “The mother who dreams that she can undo any harm that comes to her child, dreams fruitlessly. The one last thing she can do is to try to give her child back his story, the greatest and least obligation she can fulfill.”
Looking back over the years, she says, “I have to say despite the call for better police and community relations by us and the community at large, there has been little progress.”
She points to a spate of of killings similar to that of Ramarley Graham that also took place in 2012. In fact, according to the Stolen Lives Project, 2012 saw 19 police killings, compared with 13 the year before.
In September, an NYPD officer shot and killed Reynaldo Cuevas, a 20-year-old bodega worker as he was fleeing from his Bronx store, which was being robbed.
In the same 24-hour period, the police killed Walwyn Jackson in his Queens home. And in late September, Emergency Service Unit cops killed Harlem resident Mohamed Bah in his apartment doorway.
Jackson and Bah were among several cases in which the victims were mentally ill or troubled individuals — whose family members had called for help but ended up on the receiving end of police violence instead.
“I can tell you many tragedies could have been avoided, such as the case of Mohamed Bah,” Diallo said.
“The young man’s mother called for help because she needed to take her son to the hospital. The police came in and found him in his apartment alone and opened fire,” she continued. “I read in the papers that the police claimed that he had a knife, a story his mother denied, but I would think that they could have used their training to get the situation under control.”
In the wake of the Polanco and Bah killings, NYPD officials transferred the head of the Emergency Service unit; the family members have yet to receive any kind of apology from the police.
Meanwhile, as Ramarley Graham’s family prepares for the trial of their son’s killer, they are also actively campaigning for gun reform to stem street violence. “They are trying to make something come from tragedy, but it’s very difficult. There are very dark days,” said Emdin, their lawyer.
Emdin began his career as an assistant district attorney in the Bronx. He quickly rose in the ranks to become one of the youngest attorneys in the Violent Felony Crime Unit, where he tried dozens of cases involving manslaughter, robbery, assault and other violent offenses.
He later entered into private practice as a litigator, and after winning multi-million dollar cases against New York City, has often acted as a consultant to lawyers in other states on cases involving police brutality and civil rights.
What hope does he have that there will be significant reform in the NYPD? “It’s a police force with 35,000 officers assigned to it. I just don’t think the problems are going to go away,” he said. “I believe, though, that there is a culture within the NYPD that their initial knee-jerk reaction is to not say anything in the face of error or misconduct.”
“See no evil, hear no evil and certainly don’t report evil,” he continued. “And they get away with it because of a lack of discipline on the part of officers present when the error occurred. They are tacitly engaged in a cover-up to the detriment of the civilian.”
Still, Emdin is not entirely without hope. “I feel that the change will come from the electorate,” he said. “And I think that, unfortunately, there will never be perfection, eventually certain policies and procedures will be in place that guard against these tragedies from happening as frequently as they do.”