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Why 19 Years Later, Amadou Diallo’s Murder by The NYPD Is Still The Cautionary Tale For Dreamers
It was the winter of 1999 and I had just moved to New York City. The hustle and bustle of crowded sidewalks and temperature-resistant subway stations seemed to echo my desire to embrace what I considered to be the standard lifestyle of those of who had no choice but to make it.
The years prior offered locations in less-than-ideal surroundings that trapped me in the midst of those who were supposedly more affable in presentation — but as it turns out looks are deceiving — especially when the naivety of your background becomes the subject of misplaced admiration.
My parents are well-meaning individuals who came to America in the early seventies to get educated enough for the planned return to the homeland — where they would settle into professional roles that would permit the blessing of the government and the traditional grooming of their kids.
Now that we’re all much older — the natural order of things dictates periodic walks down memory lane with the assistance of the wisdom that annoyingly shows up just in time to present the options that could’ve saved you.
As Nigeria continues to bleed out resources while citizens struggle to keep the debris of accumulated sins by direly incompetent leaders at bay — my parents have to face the hard reality of whether or not going back to serve a hopelessly tragic nation was worth the sacrifice.
And I have to contend with the assignment of imagining the destiny of remaining in my “shithole” country — come what may.
What if I had chosen to attend the University of Lagos instead of the University of Missouri — before arriving in the U.S. to pursue a master’s degree in English literature? What if after completing that itinerary— I returned back to my native land with the comfortable option of dual citizenship?
Of course that’s a privilege that not only most of my compatriots can’t claim — but I also never considered with the right level of respect until the currently hostile climate enveloping migrants who can’t physically evoke the more palatable features of Norwegians — officially activated the legally approved era of ethnic cleansing.
Almost 20 years ago — Amadou Diallo — an African immigrant from Guinea — was senselessly gunned down by four NYPD officers who were not in uniform at the time of the incident. The men were part of the now-defunct — Street Crimes Unit — and back in 1999 — that basically meant turning certain neighborhoods into the bloodiest version of the — Wild Wild West.
When Diallo was murdered outside his apartment in the Bronx — the 23-year-old had just returned home from dinner and was basically just standing outside his apartment building. Sean Carroll, Richard Murphy, Edward McMellon, and Kenneth Boss were driving by when they spotted a Black man in the dead of night — and collectively assumed he was either the “serial rapist who had struck a year earlier” or that he was possibly a “lookout.”
Either way — Diallo didn’t have the time to prove them wrong because the situation escalated quickly once it became clear that the suspect was visibly agitated. It was all going to end in a hail of bullets — 41 to be exact.
The four White officers visualized Diallo’s wallet as a weapon and proceeded to rip him apart.
Even as the bullets ruptured the frame of an unarmed man — the fact that one of the officers fell over from the intensity of his activity — prompted the others to amplify their violent pursuits in response to the assumption that one of their own had been shot.
By the end of the attack — Diallo had been 19 hit times and was past dead.
The aftermath of the tragedy was a systemized package of chaos and mayhem and I vividly remember the horror of it. The companionship of social media was light years away — but news stations and other outlets at our disposal didn’t disappoint in their delivery.
It was another earth-shattering reminder of the brutality of the New York City Police Department towards a community that was crippled against their will — for the benefit of those that demonically reject the pledge to “serve and protect.”
Two years before Diallo’s vicious murder — another Black immigrant — Abner Louima suffered the unfathomable at the hands of the NYPD — and even though he miraculously survived the brutish ritual of his captors and was later able to seek the justice he deserved—the physical and emotional scars never healed.
The four police officers that slaughtered Diallo were charged with second-degree murder and reckless endangerment by a Bronx grand jury — and then a year later they were acquitted of all charges by a jury in Albany.
The only comfort the parents of the African immigrant whose dreams were blown to bits were afforded — came in monetary form ($3 million)and is only notable for the fact that at the time it was issued — in March 2004 — it was “the largest in the City of New York for a single man with no dependents under New York’s wrongful death law.”
But there’s no doubt that even 19 years later — Diallo’s murder by the NYPD is still the cautionary tale for dreamers who are clothed in the skin that dares to threaten the scope of a vibrant imagination. As humans — the tendency is to be secured in places that are bloated with opportunities in order to plant the goals and aspirations — that will then breed the results that make sacrifices worth the suffering.
Amadou Diallo was a street peddler who was determined not to go back to his country — and so he did what he could to keep that promise. At the time of his death — he hadn’t accomplished anything other than the evidence that he was a hustler with unrealized dreams.
He perished in the middle of his ongoing mission of survival because he was an African immigrant caught in the web of societal betrayal that still works overtime to extinguish the optimistic visions of those that resemble him.
Now, more than ever — we have to look to his death for the answers we hide from — whenever the fury of the Trump administration breathes the fire of condemnation for those who are trying to escape “shithole” countries for an even shittier experience in the land that isn’t quite suited for their comfort.
More than two decades later — I can’t resist questioning the choice to make America my permanent home at the expense of a more fulfilling experience in the country of my discontent. Yes, Nigeria is a staggering mess and that most likely will not change in my lifetime — but there are ways to blissfully exist in territories that are rife with political and infrastructural emergencies.
Or maybe the shambles of my dreams as a Nigerian-American who can’t find a peaceful compromise within my unique status is blinding my ability to appreciate the better of two evils.
The sadness of knowing that Diallo’s fate can’t be regulated to a stormy past is the symbol of how despite the torrential disadvantages migrants of color have to face both in Europe and the States — they still flock in droves — without reservation — in search of the corners of the globe where they can dodge bullets and enslavement — for the sake of an unprivileged existence.
They risk it all to be terrorized by White supremacists, targeted by drive-by shootings and tortured by a system that was instituted for inevitable failure and death.
But, still the dreamers advance into the realm of the unknown as they carry the weight of a destroyed culture to the countries that curated the dismal results at their unfortunate expense.
It is better to have an impossible dream than no dream at all.