Amadou Diallo Case Study        

Introduction | Preparation | Roles | The Story | The Trial | Foucault's Analysis | Our Analysis | Assignment | Recommended Parts | Evaluation

Introduction: As we read theory, what assumptions to we make about its usefulness for understanding social issues? How can we use the theoretical writings of a thinker to better understand our own assumptions about the workings of society, broadly defined? In our examination of the Amadou Diallo case, we will question the usefulness and relevance of Foucault's study of "juridico-political structures" (the regulation of bodies, the distribution of power, and the function of judicial systems) for analyzing the conflicting interpretations of the case. We will focus on the issues that emerged from the fatal shooting of Amadou Diallo on Feb. 4, 1999 to the verdict of the jury in the trial of the four white policemen charged with second-degree murder and reckless endangerment. The case study provides an opportunity to question the adequacy of Foucault's framework for studying the distribution of power in U.S. society.

Preparation: Each student will be responsible for presenting, synthesizing, and analyzing the data provided in the materials packet from the perspective of different people involved in the case. You are welcome to seek out more information relevant to your role. You are expected to follow the story line as closely as possible, but the outcome of the jury deliberation does not have to coincide with the actual verdict. You may also choose to use the details of the case as points of departure for your own rendition of the events. We will do a comparative analysis of the outcome of what has become known as the "Amadou Diallo" trial with the conclusion we reach in class.

Your Roles:

1) Two students will work in pairs to represent the stance of the defense attorney and the prosecutor. One student will represent the judge, one student will present the testimony of one or more of the police officers and one student will be a witness for the prosecution. As the defense attorney or prosecutor, your task is make preliminary comments to the jury based on the judge's instructions, to present the details of the case from your particular perspective, to present evidence to back up your argument, and to make closing statements to convince the jury of the guilt or innocence of the defendants. The judge will state the charge against the defendants, intervene when appropriate, answer questions from the jury and instruct the jury on the definition of the charges against the defendants and outline their task as jury. The witnesses are required to answer the questions posed to them by the lawyers and the judge. You are welcome to use any visual material, quotations, or mode of presentation that you find useful.

2) The jury's task is to listen to the arguments presented at the trial and to come up with the verdict based on the testimony presented. You may choose to deviate from the actual verdict in the case, but must justify your decision. You will deliberate out loud, while the rest of the class listens in. You may choose to take on the persona of an actual juror or simply be yourself.

3) The Foucault Group will play Foucault. If you were Foucault how would you analyze this case based on your main premises about the judicio-political structures of Western society? What questions might you pose to us about this case?
In your analysis be sure to refer to the material at hand, particularly the statements by Mayor Giuliani, Reverend Sharpton and the opinion pieces by Sewell and Toomis.

4) We all join in and analyze the assumptions that "Foucault " makes regarding the case. (hint: pay special attention to page 213, 217, 218 and 222, among others). In our discussion, let's keep the following questions in mind:
*How would you apply Foucualt's approach to body politics in your analysis of the case?
*How might we apply Foucault's analytical criteria regarding surveillance to interpreting the Amadou Diallo case? Do you think you "read" this case differently after reading Foucault? How?
*How does Foucault's analysis of the function of the police force apply (or not apply) to this case?
*How might we understand the following quotation by Foucault in our reading of the Amadou Diallo case?: "Moreover, whereas the juridical systems define juridical subjects according to universal norms, the disciplines characterize, classify, specialize; they distribute along a scale, around a norm, hierarchize individuals in relation to one another and, if necessary, disqualify and invalidate." (223)
*What did race have to do with it? In other words, did it make a difference that the four police officers were white and Amadou Diallo, black? Why was this not discussed at the trial?

Each group must meet with the mentor and/or Professor Remmler before the case study to discuss your role and to practice. Please make an appointment as soon as possible for one of the times given in class.

The Story based on the testimony given by the police officers: About 12:40 a.m. on Feb. 4, 1999, four white police officers, all in street clothes, opened fire on Amadou Diallo on the stoop of his apartment building in the Bronx. The officers, Sean Carroll, 36, Edward McMellon, 27, Kenneth Boss, 28, and Richard Murphy, 27, were members of the New York Police Department's Street Crime Unit. Diallo, 22, was an immigrant from Guinea (West Africa) and worked as a street peddler. When the officers spotted Diallo, they were driving an unmarked police car . They stopped the car, stepped out, and approached the area in which Diallo was standing. Two of the officers, Carroll and McMellon, approached Diallo. The police officers identified themselves. According to the police officers, Diallo did not respond to their command to halt and "darted" into a vestibule. At that point, Diallo turned towards the officers and reached for a black object in his right pocket. Carroll believed Diallo had a weapon and cried "Gun!". Gunfire ensued. McMellon fell off the steps and Boss and Murphy thought he had been hit. They began shooting. The officers fired a total of 41 shots, striking Diallo 19 times as he retreated inside. It turned out Diallo was reaching for his wallet and was unarmed. Diallo died as a result of the gunshot wounds.
In response to the shooting, Civil Rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton and others began a series of protests, citing the case as an example of "police slaughter." U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White investigates the case along with the Bronx district attorney. Protests continue and more than 1,200 protestors are eventually arrested. Mayor Giuliani regrets the shooting, but defends the work of the police officers.
On March 31, 1999 the four officers who shot Diallo are charged with reckless endangerment and second-degree murder. On Dec. 16, 1999, a state appeals court rules in favor of a change of venue and the trial is moved from the Bronx to Albany, citing pretrial publicity. Albany Supreme Court Justice Joseph Teresi is appointed the new trial judge. On Feb. 1, 2000, 12 jurors are selected, four of whom are black. On Feb 25, 2000, the seven white men, one white woman, and four black women find the four defendants not guilty of all charges.

The Trial (45 minutes!): In order to analyze the conflicting readings of what happened on Feb. 4, 1999, we will review the main arguments presented at the trial of the four police officers who were charged with second-degree murder and other lessor crimes based on their actions which resulted in the death of Amadou Diallo. The Jury will hear the arguments put forth by the defense attorney and the prosecutor (and their team), weigh the evidence, and deliberate before reaching a verdict. The Jury has 20 minutes to reach a verdict.

BREAK (10 minutes)

Foucault's Analysis (20 minutes): After the simulation of the trail and its aftermath, we will invite Foucault to comment on the case. We expect him to refer directly to his study of Discipline and Punish in making his statements and to the material provided in the packet including the comments of Mayor Giuliani, Reverend Sharpton, Thomas Sewell and Jeffrey Toobin.

Our Analysis (50 minutes) (See Preparation above). This will be our opportunity to question our own assumptions about the case and to critique Foucault. This is probably the most crucial part of this exercise!


  1. Read the entire materials packet paying special attention to the information most relevant to your particular task. As you read, note statements or information that will help you develop your particular role in this case.
  2. Meet with the mentor or myself at least once before the case. Ideally, you should talk with one of us about your plan of action and/or questions. After you have prepared your part, you should meet with me or the mentor a second time to fine-tune your presentation. Sign-up sheets will be available.
  3. You may confer with anyone else in class in advance, but also be expected to respond to surprise questions or comments.

The mentor and I will serve as advisors. I will advise the prosecution, whereas the mentor will advise the defense during the case study.

Recommended Parts

Defense attorney:
Witness for the defense (police officer):
Witness for the prosecution:


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This page was created by Kelly Oakes and is maintained by Karen Remmler. Last modified on July 18, 2002.