Monday, February 28, 2000

Closed Book or New Chapter?
Differing Viewpoints on the Amadou Diallo Verdict

Sam Rosensohn, The New York Times Learning Network
Lorin Driggs, The Bank Street College of Education in New York City

Grades: 6-12

Subjects:Language Arts, Social Studies, Civics

Overview of Lesson Plan: In this lesson, students explore the many different perspectives on the Amadou Diallo verdict and examine how people can witness the same event and have very different views on what happened. Students assess the verdict from the point of views of specific groups and express their points of view in an editorial or a letter to the editor of a newspaper.
Suggested Time Allowance: 45 minutes- 1 hour

Students will:
1. Assess a given situation from the point of the view of other students in the classroom.
2. Examine how different groups view the Diallo verdict by reading and discussing "When Doing Wrong Isn't Wrongdoing."
3. Analyze the Diallo verdict from different points of view.
4. Write editorials or letters to the editor about the Diallo verdict.

Resources / Materials:
-student journals
-classroom blackboard
-copies of "When Doing Wrong Isn't Wrongdoing" (one per student)
-hat or bag
-seven slips of paper, each with one of the following groups written on it: members of the Diallo family, members of the acquitted police officers' families, the Bronx community, the community living outside of the Bronx, the New York Police Department, the Giuliani Administration, and the Justice Department.

Activities / Procedures:
1. WARM-UP/DO-NOW: In their journals, students respond to the following scenario (written on the board prior to class): "Imagine that your teacher has to leave class right now due to an emergency, and you have been chosen to be in charge for the remainder of the period while he or she is out. Divide a piece of paper in your journal into two columns, labeling the left column "Good Decision" and the right column "Bad Decision." In each column, write several reasons why some students will think your teacher made a good decision or a bad decision by leaving the students in charge of the class." Students then share their views. Write ideas on the board in similar columns. Then, discuss how and why the teacher's decision was perceived differently by members in the class. In what other situations have people demonstrated differing opinions of a situation, particularly in specific current and historic events?

2. As a class, read and discuss "When Doing Wrong Isn't Wrong Doing," focusing on the following questions:
a. Find two statements in the featured article which appear to be opinion rather than clear facts. Note the opinions and identify who made them. Is there something in that person's background that you believe shaped his or her opinion? Why would opinions be included in a news article?
b. What does Justice Joseph Teresi believe the status of this case to be, and why?
c. Does the Diallo family share Teresi's opinion on the status of the case, and why?
d. What type of message does the verdict send to the community?
e. Does the verdict put the decisions of the police involved, Mayor Giuliani or the court system on trial? Explain your response.
f. Explain why you agree or disagree with the statement, "race may not automatically determine destiny, but it comes awfully close in this country."
g. What different views about the verdict are presented in the article?
h. What is the author trying to say when he makes a reference to Simi Valley, California and Neshoba County, Mississippi?
i. Is the "book" closed on this trial? Why or why not? Refer to at least two people quoted in the article in your answer.

3. Divide students into seven small groups. Have a representative from each group to draw a slip from a hat or bad that is marked with one of the following groups: members of the Diallo family, members of the acquitted police officers' families, the Bronx community, the community living outside of the Bronx, the New York Police Department, the Giuliani Administration, and the Justice Department. Students in each group then assume the role of the people in their selected group, discussing as a group why they believe justice was or was not served in the Diallo verdict. Students should refer to the featured article for specific quotations or other indications of this group's opinion. After ten minutes, groups report to the class. As each group presents, students note the points with which their group agreed and disagreed. These points can be the basis of a roundtable discussion if time permits in this class period or in a future class.

4. WRAP-UP/HOMEWORK: Students express their opinions of the verdict either in the form of an editorial or a letter to the editor of their school or local newspaper.

Further Questions for Discussion:
--What is it so hard to reach consensus on what happened in the Amadou Diallo case?
--When you read an article such as the featured article, how do you arrive at fair and accurate conclusions?
--Who plays the most important role in a court trial: the judge, the jury, the prosecution or defense? Why?
--Why did the court move the trial from the Bronx to Albany? Do you agree with that decision?
--How was this trial different from a traditional murder trial?
--On what three grounds could the jury have convicted the officers? Do you think that the legal parameters need to be reevaluated?
--What kind of pressures are police officers under in the inner-cities of the United States? What kind of pressures are the inhabitants of the inner-cities under in the United States?
--What civil recourse does the Diallo family now have?
--The judge and the mayor of New York City seem to believe that the book on the case is closed. Do you agree or disagree, and why?

Evaluation / Assessment:
Students will be evaluated based on written journal entries, participation in class and small group discussions, and written editorial or letter to the editor.

acquitted, conscience, immigrant, multiracial, diligently, justified, implicitly, predominantly, automatically, appellate, avalanche, rendered, evidence, reflexively, evoke, consequences, aloft, mockingly, gainsay, notwithstanding, subjected, strategies, imbued, entitlement

Extension Activities:
1. Conduct interviews in your community (or host a round-table forum in your class) with police officers, local court officers, district attorneys, defense attorneys, and judges to learn whether they believe justice was served in the Diallo case.

2. Explore the case in depth by using newspapers, Web sites, and national magazines to research the details and viewpoints expressed since Amadou Diallo's death. Create a timeline from the shooting incident to the latest development in the story. Place the timeline up in class and add to it as the story evolves.

3. Investigate the legal grounds upon which the jury in this case arrived at its decision. Review the orders the judges issued to the jury and the final summation by both the prosecution and the defense.

4. Examine the jury system and the responsibilities of a juror. What are the qualities of an excellent juror?

5. Research and compare the three cases referred to in the article: the one which took place in Simi Valley, California, the one which took place in Neshoba County, Mississippi, and Amadou Diallo's case. How does or did geography play a role in each case? What similarities and differences in the cases themselves arose?

6. Examine how the issues discussed in this article will affect politics and elections. Students might focus on how the ruling may impact Mayor Giuliani's popularity. They may watch to see if Hillary Clinton, running for the Senate in New York, expresses an opinion on the case and if that becomes an issue in her campaign. Students may write on why they believe this case may surface in the campaign for Senate in New York State.

Additional Related Articles:
"Day After Verdict, Protests Amid Calls for Calm, Calls for Vigilance" (2/27/00)
"Myriad Questions About Tactics for Policing Streets" (2/27/00)
"The Overview: 4 Officers in Diallo Shooting Are Acquitted of All Charges" (2/26/00)
"The Reaction: Verdict Elicits Sharp Feelings on Both Sides" (2/26/00)
"The Verdict: The Judge's Instruction Was a Crucial Element" (2/26/00)
"The Neighborhood: Rage Boils Over, With Some Shouting `Murderers' at the Police" (2/26/00)
"The Police: At a Brooklyn Precinct, Tension, Then Jubilation" (2/26/00)
"The Federal Case: Civil Rights Prosecution Is Considered" (2/26/00)
"The Mayor: In a Softer Mode, Giuliani Expresses Sympathy for All" (2/26/00)
"The Coverage: Verdict Trumps TV Schedules" (2/26/00)
"Police Officer Thumbnails in Diallo Trial" (2/26/00)
"The Scene: A Carpet of Casings and Bullets" (12/10/99) (

Other Information on the Web
41 Shots ( is an organization with the belief that civilians can and should play a role in determining the appropriate exercise of police power.

Shielded from Justice: New York ( is a Human Rights Watch report on police brutality and accountability in New York.

The Diallo Index ( is a by-the-numbers look at the case of Amadou Diallo; from the Village Voice.

Copyright 2000
The New York Times Company

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