When a jury found officers accused of murdering Amadou Diallo, a West African immigrant and Bronx resident, not guilty last month, people across the country raised their voices about the controversial case. And yesterday, Fels Center of Government Director and noted criminologist Lawrence Sherman continued that discussion by speaking about the case in his Sociology class titled "Deviance and Social Control." Sherman, who is also a Sociology professor, used a third of his regular three-hour lecture in College Hall 200 to discuss and analyze the recent trial and the circumstances surrounding it. "I think it is one of the most important events in the history of policing in this country. It is as important, if not more so, than Rodney King, and it is going to have an earth-shaking effect on the field," Sherman said. Diallo was shot and killed in 1998 by the four New York City police officers, who claimed that they thought Diallo was reaching for a gun. The officers were indicted on charges of second-degree murder. During the trial, the officers argued that that they fired in self-defense. Sherman, who served as a consultant for the prosecution in the Diallo case, gave detailed analysis of the inner workings of both sides of the issue. A large part of the discussion focused on the shooting and the fact that 41 shots were released from the officers' semi-automatic weapons, 19 of which actually struck Diallo. One student asked if the officers could have just aimed for a limb. But Sherman said, "Every police officer in this country is trained to hit body mass instead of shooting a limb." However, Sherman pointed out various flaws in both sides of the argument. "Not only the police but also the prosecution is taking a huge beating from the press for not cross-examining, for not focusing on identification and for focusing too much on the 41 shots," he said. "The jury ultimately said that it was the first shot that mattered. The jury was not impressed [by the amount of shots]," he said. One complication, Sherman explained, was that in order for the officers to be convicted of second-degree murder, the prosecution had to prove intent to be negligent. "Calling it criminally negligent homicide probably would have been more credible," he added,"but I think they overshot and missed the jury and just couldn't bring the jury back." The students taking the class said the time spent on the Diallo case was appropriate and informative. "This is a perfect example of what needs to be worked on in the system today. I think it is very important because everything that we have been learning can be found in this situation," College freshman Stephanie Beyer said. Adam Warshafsky, a College senior, agreed. "He is talking about police strategies and plans and how they are supposed to approach suspected offenders. And there's a real-life case where we can examine where they [the police] didn't follow the proper strategy," Warshafsky said. Sherman himself voiced a strong opinion about the long-lasting effects of the Diallo case. "It had effect on people's view of the law all over the country. Everyone gets labeled with the failures that were perceived in this case and that is why we have to fix them," he said following the lecture.Comments powered by Disqus
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