It took more than a year for Kenneth Boss, Sean Carroll, Edward McMellon and Richard Murphy to go to trial and be acquitted of criminal charges in the incident, which occurred Feb. 4, 1999 in the Bronx.
The cops were looking for a rapist. They approached Diallo, who then, according to testimony, pulled out what looked like a gun but turned out to be a wallet. The officers fired a total of 41 shots, hitting the 22-year-old 19 times. Despite the number of shots fired and the fact that the suspect had no weapon, the officers believed they were in mortal danger at the time, and the jury agreed that their reaction to the perceived situation was not criminal.
Almost a year later the United States Justice Department refused to file a civil rights case against the officers. This decision came despite pressure from the likes of the Rev. Al Sharpton and many other minority leaders in the New York area.
Last week the results of two internal police investigations were made known. Both concluded that the officers acted within departmental guidelines. On Friday New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik accepted the findings of the two reports and said that the officers would not be punished. However, they would not be given their guns back until he feels that they are able to handle another life-or-death situation out on the streets of the city. Since the shooting all four officers have been assigned to desk duty.
The announcement by Kerik increases the "not guilty" count to three: the trial, the non-action by the Department of Justice, and the action by NYPD.
So where do the four men go from here? They can stay on the force, inside without their guns and hope to be put back on the street, as it seems Carroll and Boss will do. Or they can do as McMellon and Murphy have done and apply to the New York City Fire Department for positions.
Yet as these four men try to move ahead they still face an $81 million civil lawsuit filed by the Diallo family, and they face the constant protests voiced by Diallo's parents, Sharpton, leaders of black groups within the police and fire departments of New York City, as well as most of the candidates looking to become the city's next mayor.
The Diallos feel that their son was murdered by the police. I'm sure that there are few if any who would deny the feelings of grieving parents who have lost a son under the most tragic of circumstances. "They are letting the police go free to kill and kill," said Saikou Diallo, father of Amadou, after Kerik's decision. Kadiatou Diallo, Amadou's mother, said: "The decision is wrong. Let's make changes to prevent this from happening again." Both statements are understandable. However, other statements go beyond grief and concern for the future safety of New York citizens.
Mrs. Diallo, in addition to calling the four cops guilty of murder, has also spoken out against Officer McMellon's effort to join the fire department. She has been joined by Sharpton and the leaders of the Vulkins, a group made up of black firefighters as well as representatives from 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement. Sharpton plans protests this week at FDNY headquarters. He reacted to Commissioner Kerik's decision by saying, "What about the confidence of the people in the city when they feel that they are under siege by police?"
So just when do the protests go away? When will the four officers be allowed to move on? When will the four who have been acquitted in effect four times, on three different levels, be free to try to put this terrible tragedy behind them and behind their respective families?
To his credit Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen has already given the thumbs up to McMellon joining the department. He scored in the top 3 percent of those taking the test. But that's why Sharpton will be protesting at FDNY headquarters.
We all need to understand that the pain of losing their son will never go away for the Diallo family. They in turn need to understand that the system so far has found these men to be not guilty. Stop calling them murderers. Stop trying to keep them from earning a living. Stop Sharpton and company from attempting to drag this out as long as possible, causing nothing but tension and divisiveness along the way.
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