Bronx seethes after shooting inflames tensions tensions

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The Independent Online
THE DEATH last week of an unarmed African immigrant in a fusillade of bullets unleashed by four white police officers has lit a bonfire under simmering racial tension in New York and directed the spotlight on the zero-tolerance law-enforcement policies of the city's Republican mayor, Rudolph Giuliani.

Confusion surrounds the circumstances of the incident when the four officers fired 41 shots at Amadou Diallo, an immigrant from Guinea, West Africa, after apparently confronting him last Thursday in the hallway of the Bronx apartment building where he lived last. He died from 19 bullet wounds.

Leaders of the black community, including the veteran activist and political firebrand the Rev Al Sharpton, have demanded a federal investigation of the shooting, saying that it exposes a policy of indiscriminate brutality by the city's police against innocent African Americans.

Emotions are expected to run high at a memorial service to be held in Harlem tomorrow. Mr Diallo, 22, arrived in New York from Guinea two years ago and worked as a street vendor in Manhattan. He spoke almost no English and was carrying only a wallet and a beeper when he was gunned down.

Lawyers for the four officers, who are expected to testify shortly before a grand jury, have said they opened fire because they believed Mr Diallo was armed and may have been reaching for a gun when they challenged him. They were patrolling the area in search of a serial rapist.

The affair has ballooned into a crisis for Mr Giuliani, who cancelled a political visit to Texas today to attend the memorial service. The Mayor, who meets the British Opposition Leader, William Hague, here on Saturday, was the object of passionate denouncement at a rally of more than 1,000 people, almost all of them African Americans, outside City Hall on yesterday.

"If they can shoot anyone 41 times, they can shoot everyone 41 times," Mr Sharpton told the angry crowd. "It may start with blacks and Latinos but it will spread everywhere". He led the throng in chanting "No justice, no peace" as many waved banners accusing Mr Giuliani of condoning police brutality.

The shooting has become a symbol of the darker side of the zero-tolerance approach adopted under Mr Giuliani's administration, which has otherwise been credited with a drop in violent-crime rates. "This just shows how the police will shoot a black man for no reason," said Shahir Mack, one of the many children at the City Hall rally.

The victim's mother, Kadiadou Diallo, flew to New York from Guinea and visited the Bronx apartment house where her son died.

Emerging from a black van, she fell to her knees before throngs of reporters and sympathisers wailing "Why? Why? Why?" She then stumbled to the building, repeatedly crying out "Amadou, Amadou, Amadou".

She and her husband, who is due here today, will take the body back to Guinea.

New York's Police Commissioner, Howard Safir, ordered his department to arrange refresher courses for street-crime units to instruct them on approaching suspects and determining whether or not they are armed and represent a genuine security threat.