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An American Dream Became An American Nightmare

"When racial profiling seeps so deeply into somebody’s mind, a wallet in the hand of a white man looks like a wallet, but a wallet in the hand of a black man looks like a gun.” ~ Former New Jersey Senator, Bill Bradley

Twenty years ago, Amadou Diallo was shot and killed by police, his body lay riddled with bullets outside his Bronx apartment. He was 22.

Amadou came to New York from West Africa in 1996 to live the American Dream. He wanted to go to college and earn a computer science degree. Before leaving, he left a handwritten note to his mother. It simply said: “The solution is U.S.A. Don’t leave my brothers and sisters here.”

Once he arrived in America, Amadou began working as a street peddler, selling video tapes, gloves, and socks in order to pay for college. He refused help from his family; he wanted to achieve success on his own.

About 12:30 a.m. on February 4, 1999. Diallo had just returned from getting a bite to eat. He was standing in the unlit vestibule outside his apartment building when four plain-clothes police officers drove up. The officers said they got out of their car because Amadou matched the general description of a serial rapist and that he was acting suspiciously – going in and out of the doorway. They said they felt that was reason enough to question him. As the officers approached, Diallo turned and ran. One of the officers ran after him, at which point Diallo reached in his pocket, then turned toward the officers with something in his hand. Unable to identify the object in the dark, one of the officers yelled, “gun” and all four began shooting at Amadou – a combined total of 41 shots. Nineteen bullets struck Amadou, several as he was falling then lay on the ground. There was even a bullet hole in the bottom of his shoe. Lying with him were his wallet and pager; there was no gun.

These officers never considered the Amadou might have had a legitimate reason for being where he was, or even that he might have lived in the building. They never considered that he may have ran because he was afraid after seeing a car slow down in front of his apartment in the middle of the night and four armed men getting out. They never considered that Amadou may have thought they were robbers and that he was handing over his wallet. Or that, upon realizing the men were police officers, he was reaching for his wallet to show identification.

I acknowledge and appreciate that being a police officer is a tough, often thankless, job to maintain public safety. Officers put their lives on the line every day; they never know what will happen in any given situation. Will it be an easy stop or will they face an enraged person? Will the person pull a gun or knife? However, it doesn’t mean making excuses for those that unjustly discriminate or blatantly abuse their power, especially when the abuse ends a life.

The four officers were charged with second-degree murder, but their attorney argued that they could not get a fair trial in the city because of the massive protests and rallies over the incident. The trial was moved to Albany, where a jury acquitted the officers of all charges. Two decades later, one of the officers remains with the police department and has been promoted to a sergeant. Two others joined the fire department and one retired from the NYPD. All of them have experienced the opportunity in America that Amadou only dreamed about.

Nothing has changed over the past 20 years. Innocent lives continue to be lost in the hands of police; the officers involved are usually acquitted. Victims like Amadou Diallo, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, and Philando Castillo became targets of not only police brutality and racial profiling, but the subjects of negative and biased media reports. In every case, the media tells the story as they want the public to see it. Forget seeking the facts; just jump to the best liberal narrative available and run with it. What happened to “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?”

These senseless shootings usually erupt in protests and outrage by communities that are tired of the police brutality and racial profiling that has become all too common. While the police, in this case, said they were convinced that their lives were in danger, let’s remember that they shot Amadou 41 times, even as he lay on the ground. How is that justification for self-defense? How does self-defense become excessive use of force? When is reasonable suspicion just blatant racism?

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