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Self Defense And Mistaken Identity.

The highly publicized Diallo shooting underlines the fact that mistaken identity tragedies can occur between cops and citizens, particularly when the cops are in plainclothes.

Diallo, an immigrant from Guinea, had the misfortune to not only fit the description, but resemble victims' sketches, of a serial rapist in New York City. Four plainclothesmen of the elite Anti-Crime Unit spotted him about 12:30 a.m. on the fateful night, and noticed that he appeared to duck into a vestibule as if to avoid them.

They moved forward, drawing their 16-shot 9mm auto pistols and identifying themselves loudly. Diallo, they said, then made a movement as if drawing a gun. The officers opened fire with two SIC P-226 DAOs, a Model 5946 S&W, and a Clock 19, firing 41 shots and striking him 19 times.

As they approached, they saw that lying next to his "gun" hand were a wallet and a pager. The vestibule turned out to be that of Diallo's own apartment building.

Outrage over the incident is understandable, but to fully understand the dynamics of such an incident, you need to look at it from the cops' side too. As the firing began, two of the officers were on the steps near the man they reasonably believed might be a rape suspect and one fell backwards, hard enough to crack his tailbone. It looked to the others as if he'd been shot

Apparently this crew had not yet been issued the new hollowpoints and was armed with the old FMJ 9mm ammo, some of which bounced off the wall behind Diallo and came back at them, giving them further cause to believe they were under fire. Finally, most of the hits were low, in the legs, and in any case 9mm ball is notorious for allowing the man you're shooting at to stay on his feet.

If you are ever given a command like "Police! Don't move," the best advice is, don't move! The reach for the wallet looks like a reach for a gun. In darkness, a pager can be mistaken for a small pistol, and the thin profile of a wallet looks like the top of the slide of a semiautomatic handgun being drawn.

Diallo and his family have my deepest sympathy, but so do the involved officers and their families. This particular tragedy produced all victims, and no villains.
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Publication:Guns Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 1999
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