It was dark in the wee morning hours of Feb 4, 1999. Amadou Diallo, an immigrant from Guinea, was standing outside his low-income apartment building on Wheeler Avenue in the South Bronx. The neighborhood was ear-marked for surveillance by a special police unit in an effort to curb drug related crime.
Diallo was not typically considered to have a threatening presence. He was a short, light-weight man with an unassuming demeanor, and a shyness stemming from a severe stutter. But on that fateful night, his loitering attracted the suspicion of four police officers in an unmarked car. Spotting the halted car, Diallo’s curiosity was piqued enough to look around for what might be holding their attention. When he realized he was the object of their scrutiny, he became nervous and quickly retreated into the shadows. The cops interpreted this as the skittishness of a lookout abetting a crime.
Two of them, wearing civilian clothes, concealed bullet-proof vests, and not-so-concealed sidearms, ominously approached him. They asked if they could have a word. Apparently the fearful guy’s stutter prevented him from answering. Diallo freaked out and instinctively darted to his apartment door. He grabbed the doorknob with his left hand and started digging frantically in his pocket with his right. One policeman shouted “Show me your hands!” but Diallo turned his body and crouched low in what appeared to be a classic close-combat tactical stance—one the police were familiar with from their own training. Suddenly he presented a black, rectangular object and proffered it to his presumed assailants.
“Gun!” shouted one officer and drew his weapon. A shot rang out.
Startled, the other cop retreated, clumsily falling backward and in panic also discharged his weapon. Instantaneously the other two policemen appeared in the mêlée of crackling gunfire. Seeing one colleague on the floor and the other shooting, they joined the fray.
The whole incident was over in a few seconds. In that time 41 shots were fired. When the smoke cleared they found bullet-ridden Amadou Diallo’s body, with an outstretched hand, clutching a black wallet.