‘We’re in this fight together’: Bronx vigil marks 25 years since NYPD’s killing of Amadou Diallo

NY: Amadou Diallo 25th anniversary vigil,
Kadiatou Diallo, Amadou Diallo’s mother, speaks at a Feb. 4 vigil for her son.
Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

Feb. 4 marked 25 years since Amadou Diallo, a 23-year-old immigrant from Guinea, was killed in the Bronx in a hail of gunfire unleashed by four white plainclothes NYPD officers Sean Carroll, Richard Murphy, Edward McMellon and Kenneth Boss, all of whom belonged to the now-disbanded NYPD Street Crime Unit.

On Saturday, Feb. 3, Diallo’s mother, Kadiatou Diallo, held a vigil in front of Amadou Diallo’s mural at 1177 Wheeler Ave. in the Bronx in her son’s memory. She was joined by faith leaders, community-based organizations, elected officials and family members of New Yorkers killed by the NYPD, including Eric Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr; Anthony Baez’s mother, Iris Baez; Sean Bell’s mother, Valerie Bell; Anthony Rosario’s mother and Hilton Vega’s aunt, Margarita Rosario; Ramarley Graham’s mother, Constance Malcome; and Allan Feliz’s brother, Samy Feliz.

Kadiatou Diallo, Amadou Diallo’s mother, speaks at the vigil for her son.Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

Shortly after midnight on Feb. 4, 1999, the NYPD officers were looking for a rape suspect in the Bronx and noticed Diallo, who was standing in the vestibule of his home on 1157 Wheeler Ave. The cops, who drove an unmarked car, approached Diallo and demanded he show his hands. Instead, Diallo, who was unarmed, reached for his pocket to pull out his wallet. The cops unleashed 41 rounds of bullets on Diallo, with 19 of them hitting Diallo, killing him within minutes. Later, the cops claimed that Diallo matched the subscription of the rape suspect and acted suspiciously, and they believed Diallo was reaching for a gun.

Diallo’s killing sparked massive protests across the city. The officers were charged with second-degree murder and reckless endangerment. Their trial was moved to Albany, where an almost all-white jury acquitted them of all charges.

Surrounded by the families who also lost their relatives to NYPD killings, Kadiatou Diallo described her firstborn as hard-working and educated — Amadou Diallo spoke five languages — and said he had planned to attend college with a goal of achieving the American dream.

Vigil attendees were emotional at the vigil.Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

“[Amadou] had dreams and he was about to achieve his dreams,” Kadiatou Diallo said. “His dreams [were] cut short by 41 bullets.”

After his death, Kadiatou Diallo started the Amadou Diallo Foundation, which has given out 54 college scholarships to students of African descent in honor of her son’s academic aspirations.

“I said to myself, ‘ I want to pick up Amadou, dust him off,and give him back his story,'” Kadiatou Diallo said. “I tell the world who Amadou was. I established programs so that young people can carry that dream in his legacy. His history must not be forgotten. His history is our history. His is a legacy that we have to carry on.”

The family members of those who were killed by NYPD officers and elected officials called for the continued need for police accountability.

Gwen Carr speaks at the vigil.Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

Gwen Carr, whose son Eric Garner died in an NYPD chokehold in 2014, commended Kadiatou Diallo for her strength throughout the 25 years.

“We have fought many valid battles together,” Carr said. “We went to Albany to get these laws changed together. We were a unit together.”

Allan Feliz was shot and killed by an NYPD sergeant during a traffic stop in the Bronx in 2019. His brother, Samy Feliz, was overcome with emotions and expressed that the other families gave him the courage to fight for his brother.

Allan Feliz’s brother Samy speaks at the vigil.Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

“I don’t only do it for Allan, I do it for Diallo.  I do it for Mrs. Carr. I do it for Mrs. Rosario. I do it for Mrs. Biaz,” Feliz said. ” We’re in this fight together. Allan is forever grateful to know that we walk behind such strong footsteps and paths that you guys are laying down for us as families.”

Valerie Bell’s son Sean was shot and killed by undercover cops in Jamaica, Queens, in 2006,  just hours before his wedding. Bell called Kadiatou Diallo “another sister from another mother” and said they talk regularly.

Sean Bell’s mom Valerie speaks at the vigil.Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

“I try to support [Kadiatou Diallo] as much as I can in most of the work because this is constantly happening over and over again,” Bell said.

New York City Comptroller Brad Lander recalled that he joined the “41 Days of Action” in 2000, organized in response to the acquittals of NYPD officers Carroll,  Murphy, McMellon and Boss.

New York City Comptroller Brad Lander speaks at vigil.Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

“It was my first civil disobedience arrest in protest of Amadou’s killing, and that was part of what inspired me to run for office and to work with [Public Advocate] Jumaane Williams and to fight for the “Community Safety” Act,” Lander said.

Lander also acknowledged the City Council for overriding Mayor Eric Adams’s veto of the “How Many Stops” Act.

“I do want to give props to those council members this week for passing the “How Many Stops” Act, which is inspired by the courage and the demands for justice that this set of family members, the Justice Committee and the leaders here have been showing for so, so long,” Lander said.

Council Member Yusef Salaam was one of many who voted to override the mayor’s veto. Salaam was a teenager when he was wrongfully convicted of attacking and raping a woman in Central Park in 1989 and spent nearly seven years in prison. He promised to “speak truth to power ” and make room at the table for those run over by the “spike wheels of justice.”

City Council Member Dr. Yusef Salaam speaks at the vigil.Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

“We didn’t ask to be in this place and time,” Salaam said. “But here we are. The opportunity this moment holds is that we make sure we stand by our sisters, our mothers, our brothers, our fathers, our sons and our daughters.”

The vigil concluded with a march to 1157 Wheeler Ave., the location where Diallo was killed, for a moment of silence.

Kadiatou Diallo and family members of victims of police killings march to the site where Amadou Diallo was killed.Photo by Gabriele Holtermann
Amadou Diallo’s death was commemorated in the Bronx on Feb. 4 with a vigil.Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

“This is where I collapsed and cried,” Kadiatou Diallo recalled. “I’m here today to not cry. Amadou’s dream is still alive. We don’t give up.”

A vigil attendee wipes away her tears at the vigil.Photo by Gabriele Holtermann