“It’s tough,” Kadiatou Diallo told the AmNews on the eve of the 10th anniversary of her son being gunned down in a fusillade of 41 bullets outside his home in the Bronx. “We are doing an event on the 5th of February at Bronx Community College, where he was a student, to remember him and commemorate his passing.”
This woman, a picture of quiet dignity and unrevealed, steady pain, seeks to offer inspiration to others with her work: by comforting other mothers who have lost children to police bullets; with her building of a school in Guinea; with her granting scholarships to African students studying at the Bronx Community College; and with her profusely thanking those who call to greet her and ask how is SHE doing?
It is like a paradox to begin Black History Month with this solemn commemoration, but it seems like it was yesterday that New York was rocked on its heels as news spread that four white cops had gunned down an unarmed Black man on his way home just after midnight on Feb. 4,1999.
“The memory is so fresh. It’s not easy,” said Ms. Diallo. “For the whole week I have been going through that day every day. It has been 10 years. Babies have been born; people have moved on. Me? I’m not moving on. I keep living that day. But we can move on by keeping Amadou’s memory alive and working for positive change. On the anniversary, we will pray, give some food and remember him. We have five African students to whom we will present scholarships in his name. We have given scholarships to students from all over Africa: Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Togo–every country has been represented.” In the decade since the world first met Kadiatou Diallo, she has not wavered in her mission to ensure that her son did not die in vain.
“I have been touched by the love and support of so many people,” she told the paper. “I want to thank everyone who marched and protested–I mean everyone: those young men who were arrested for the first time protesting for Amadou; the mothers, the sisters, the fathers and the brothers. Amadou is a mountain now for the community, for all the people. His name lives on in all our memories.”
Ten years ago on Feb. 4, 1999, Amadou Diallo, 22, was shot at 41 times by four New York police officers as he stood at his front door at Webster Avenue at his Bronx home. The names of Kenneth Boss, Sean Carroll, Edward McMellon and Richard Murphy became synonymous with police brutality.
The Guinean immigrant street vendor was a regular, unarmed man when the cops unleashed the deadly barrage, which was to be repeated eight years later in Queens, when Mike Oliver, Michael Cooper and Gescard Isnora fired 50 bullets at an unarmed Sean Bell, Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield, killing Bell mere hours before his wedding day.
A city of activists, residents, elected officials and the like joined Rev. Al Sharpton and the National Action Network in immediately taking to the streets. There were marches in the Bronx, in Manhattan and across the Brooklyn Bridge, and what Sharpton determined “was the most successful New York civil disobedience in National Action Network’s history.”
The reverend organized 1,200 protesters to march outside NYPD headquarters at One Police Plaza over a series of days. The community demanded arrests and prosecutions of those responsible for the “murder” of Amadou Diallo.
Those lining up for the plastic cuffs included former mayor David Dinkins, Rev. Jesse Jackson and actress Susan Sarandon.
The hundreds of arrests by appointment caught the attention of the world stunned by the killing and the sight of noted celebrities and New York officials handing themselves over to be arrested for civil disobedience in the vein of Dr. Martin Luther King.
According to Rev. Sharpton, “It was probably the greatest multicultural act of civil disobedience in New York since the 1960s.We perfected a non-violent movement in New York. In fact, we did more than that. New York showed that mayors and cops, like everyone else, must have a dose of decency, common sense and willingness to communicate.” But underlining the whole period was the polarizing, racially insensitive–and some say “ignorant”–attitude of Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who habitually defended cops involved in numerous unprovoked shootings of young Black men.
A glorious motorcade accompanied Diallo’s coffin to Newark International Airport in New Jersey, where Sharpton would go with the family to the burial in Guinea. The murder had become an international incident. Two months later, cops arrested the serial rape suspect whom the four Street Crime Unit officers claimed they were on the lookout for when they killed Diallo. Despite the global spotlight shining on the case on Feb.25, 2000, all four officers were acquitted. Amidst the outrage, Sharpton demanded a U.S. Justice Department investigation.
Tuesday this week, Eric Holder became the nation’s first Black attorney general. In 2001, the Justice Department announced that it would not pursue federal civil rights charges against the acquitted officers, with then acting Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. saying that they “could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officers willfully deprived Mr.Diallo of his constitutional right to be free from the use of unreasonable force.”
So, the feds did nothing. The family moved on–both Saikou and Kadiatou set up educational and humanitarian foundations in memory of their son. With famed attorney Johnnie Cochran representing the case, the family settled their civil suit with the city and the police department for $3 million. In April 2002, Commissioner Ray Kelly said that he would disband, or some say reconfigure, the controversial Street Crime Unit.
There have been many police shooting deaths since Diallo, such as Malcolm Ferguson, Patrick Dorismond, Ousmane Zongo, Timothy Stansbury, Sean Bell, Ronald Battle and Jason Tirado.
“Forty-one bullets did not send a message to Giuliani or Bloomberg. We got 50 bullets next with Sean Bell,” said Councilman Charles Barron.
“They still did not get the message because from Diallo to Bell, there have been countless police killings. We don’t want to go from Giuliani time to Bloomberg and Kelly time, but the police are still out of control, and the mayor should know that the community will not tolerate it.”
Meanwhile, Kadiatou holds gratitude and faith as her pillars on which to build. Of a recent meeting of mothers in an unfortunate club, Diallo told the paper, “I was with Mrs. Bell and other mothers whose children were killed by law enforcement. One lady’s husband was a police officer killed by another police officer when he was in plain-clothes [Nathaniel Gaines, 26]. We bonded.”
Kadiatou Diallo and Rev. Al Sharpton will speak at a press conference in the President’s Conference Room at Bronx Community College (2155 University Avenue at West 181st Street) on Thursday, Feb.5,2009,at 10:30 a.m.
“As the president of the Amadou Diallo Scholarship Fund, Ms. Diallo will announce this year’s academic scholarship winners in memory of her son on the 10th anniversary of his death,” said Eugene Adams, a college spokesman. “Ms. Diallo established the fund in 2005 to be equally divided between Bronx Community College and Borough of Manhattan Community College, as encouragement and support for hardworking and committed students.
“Rev. Al Sharpton will join Ms. Diallo in announcing a fundraising concert on June 30, 2009 at Harlem’s Apollo Theater on 125th Street to help raise money for the Diallo Scholarship Fund,” Adams continued. “With the increase of African student immigrants to the Bronx and the College over the past 10 years, Bronx Community College has led an outreach effort to help meet the needs of this new community. Sponsors of the event are Bronx Community College’s Collaborative Programs and the Center for Tolerance and Understanding.”
Kadiatou told the AmNews, “Amadou was an innocent young man. Look at Barack Obama: His father came from overseas, married a young lady, and his son became the president of the United States. We don’t know what Amadou would have done and what he would have become. I’m sure he would have done great things.” Overflowing with appreciation, Ms. Diallo told the AmNews, “I’m so grateful to all of you who have supported us. Thank you.”
For more information on the BCC event, call (718) 289-5952.
For more information on Amadou projects, go to: http://www.amadoudiallofoundationinc.com.