The ghost of Amadou Diallo haunted me in my sleep last night. He asked me, “Officer Serpico, where was justice in that Albany courtroom? Who was there to represent me? I can clearly see that Justice is not blind, just blindfolded. But who will remove the blindfold from her eyes so that she may see that the scales are not balanced?
“Will you tell my story?
“Tell how the final injustice and real crime took place after the mutilation of my body, which I was powerless to resist; tell how now they have mutilated my honor and my dignity.
“I, Amadou Diallo, cry out for justice, and I charge them, charge them all, with conspiracy to obstruct justice.
“While I watched, I saw and heard them plot and scheme to cover up their blunder. The police ransacked my home, looking for what? Had they not done enough damage? They questioned my roommates, asking if they knew of anyone who would do such a thing. The police officers did not tell them that it was their fellow officers who had just slaughtered me.
“City officials, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and most of the media all took part in an award-winning exhibition of testilying before the jury and before the world. They all made a mockery of Justice because she was blindfolded.
“The defense stated twice before the court, ‘Are we here to seek justice, or are we playing a game?’ I say they were there to play a game, a very unjust game.
“From where I am, I can see everything clearly now, even the past.
“I want to comment on how Mr. Fred Graham of Court TV told the world that the police saw me look up and down the street and, therefore, I must have done something wrong. Is it a crime for a black man in America to look up or down a street to see what a car is doing creeping up his street? Is this objective reporting?
“One of the defense attorneys referred to me as a ‘perp,’ clearly prejudicing the minds of the jury, when it was the four defendants who were the perpetrators. I did not hear the D.A. or the judge object; did you?
“An ‘expert’ witness for the defense, Mr. James Fyfe, a former NYC police lieutenant and Police Academy instructor, testified that the cops told him I ran into the vestibule. How could I run into the vestibule, when they testified I was in the vestibule sticking my head in and out the door? Is this not like the fox in the henhouse? This Mr. Fyfe also testified in a case in L.A. (where the biggest police scandal in history is taking place today, in the Rampart Division, even as they were testifying against me).
“In this Fyfe case, officers also testified that a dead man ‘rose to a sitting position,’ just as I did, still holding my wallet. I tell you, Officer Serpico, I did not realize I had such superhuman power.
“In this Fyfe case, according to medical testimony, the victim’s movement stopped immediately with the first shot, which disintegrated his brain stem and killed him instantly, similar to my situation. Isn’t it interesting, Officer Serpico, how police testilie about the actions of dead men?
“And I see, Officer Serpico, how this Fyfe even made up stories about the night you were shot in the line of duty and had the temerity to print these lies in a book that’s now taught in our schools of law.
“Several years ago, the Mollen Commission, looking into police misconduct, asserted that police perjury is ‘widespread’ in New York City.
“Alan Dershowitz, professor of law at Harvard University, stated that ‘testilying’—as police call it—has long been an open secret among prosecutors, defense lawyers, and judges:
I have seen trial judges pretend to believe officers whose testimony is contradicted by common sense, documentary evidence, and even unambiguous tape recordings, and I have seen appellate judges close their eyes to such patently false findings of fact. Judicial acceptance of obviously false testimony sends a subtle yet powerful message of approval, if not encouragement, to perjurers.
Many trial judges were prosecutors, and they know perjury when they hear it—and they hear it often enough to be able to do something about it. Some judges refuse to close their eyes to perjury, but they are the rare exception to the rule of willful blindness, deafness, and muteness that guides the vast majority of judges and prosecutors. Unless the Mollen Commission broadens its focus to include judges and prosecutors who subtly encourage perjury, nothing will change.
“Is it any wonder, then, that there is such injustice in our justice system?
“So here we are today, and nothing has changed, except that I am dead, another innocent victim, written off to the war on crime.
“If you go to the NYPD home page, you will see a smiling police commissioner above the words Mission and Values, which are:
What Must Be Done
In the wake of the Mollen Commission findings in 1994, I sent a letter to Bill Clinton asking him to investigate issues of police corruption and brutality on a federal level and setting forth some suggestions to check the abuses of police power. He decided to pass on my letter. So that Amadou Diallo’s death might not be in vain, and for the sake of all the innocent citizens who have yet to die at the hands of the police who are meant to protect them, I again set forth these thoughts:
1. The citizenry must hold its elected officials to the highest ethical standards. The fact that Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has repeatedly vetoed an independent audit board on police misconduct is a travesty and indicative of the problems that are being covered up in the department.
2. Honest police officers must be supported, encouraged, and held up as role models by their superiors rather than being compelled to abide by the blue wall of silence.
3. Recruits must be psychologically screened to ensure that they are the type of people we want maintaining order and protecting our streets.
4. We need better training of recruits and better instructors in combat techniques, community outreach, and ethics. (While I have been asked to speak around the country and around the world on police ethics, I have never been invited to speak at the New York City Police Academy on the subject.)
5. The 48-hour rule, which allows police officers involved in shootings to take 48 hours before they tell their story, must be abolished.
6. Minority representation in the police department must be increased. It is essential that there be an equitable balance between the racial composition of the police department and the society it serves.
7. A special prosecutor must be appointed on an ongoing basis to look into police misconduct.
And to those lawyers in the media who are telling federal prosecutors to stay away, I pray and say, unless we demand an independent prosecutor to review the Diallo case, his ghost cannot rest, and the credibility of our justice system and the credibility of every brave and honest police officer in America will be damaged beyond repair. —Frank Serpico
NYPD detective Frank Serpico’s revelations of widespread corruption within the ranks compelled Mayor John Lindsay in 1970 to appoint the Knapp Commission. In a buy-and-bust operation the next year, Serpico was shot in the face by a drug dealer. These events became the basis for Serpico, the best-seller by Peter Maas and the hit movie starring Al Pacino. Serpico continues to speak out regarding police brutality and corruption issues.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 7, 2000