19 out of the 41 shots fired in 10-seconds by four members of the NYPD Street Crimes Unit hit the defenseless body of one Amadou Diallo as he stood in the vestibule of the building where he lived in the Bronx. This video essay seizes on the grotesquely bald, factual precision of this numerical data, proceeding remorselessly on up from number 1 to 41, rubber-banding 10-seconds into fourteen minutes, and then snapping it tight, in an intense, formal contemplation of how police violence is produced and then addressed by other forces on the city streets.
We see the streets, at night, occupied by a crazy army of vibrant, constantly shifting colors and images, the frantic movement of anxiety and influence, insult and injury. Superimposed upon the unstable text of the city streets is the electronic pulsing of bits of computer text, the horizontal instability of the virtual information stream—while a graphic of the scene of the police crime is retraced obsessively, decomposing into fragmented close-ups. The images we see of each number from 1 to 41 turn out to be street addresses and vestibules within Manhattan that have not received the violent attentions of the almost entirely white Street Crimes Unit. Behind these 41 locked vestibules live citizens who probably consider themselves safe from the depredations of unknown elements. 41 Shots intimates how at risk they (we) all may ultimately be—not from the unknown, but precisely from the appointed guardians of public safety.
The vestibule, transitional zone between inside and outside, becomes an architectural metaphor for universal vulnerability to the sanctioned forces of order on the point of becoming "a great disorder." Fleeting carnivalesque scenes of highly-policed street demonstrations and Halloween parades intimate both the possibility of resistance and a vision of the urban landscape as a necropolis. Ghostly images of windows reflect the sinister theorization underlying the nationwide ratcheting-up of police activity known as the "broken windows" theory of criminology, which posits zero tolerance toward the most minor of offenses. This inherently racist, scorched earth approach to the clean-up of crime has had dire consequences for our communities, among them a violent erasure of the vibrant possibilities for street life. The police murder of Amadou Diallo is thus not only a crime: it could be a blueprint for the future. 41 Shots implicates all of us as we stand uneasily in the vestibule leading toward—or away from—that future.