Amsterdam News Editor

Samantha Colton

Special to the AmNews

The police killing of Amadou Diallo ignited protests and debates in New York City that still rage 16 years later. The case gained national and international notoriety.

Thursday, Feb. 5, from 9 a.m to noon, the Amadou Diallo Foundation will present a conference at Columbia University titled, “How to Improve Police-Community Relations.”

“I want people to come so we can make things better for future generations,” Kadiatou Diallo told the Amsterdam News Wednesday, Feb. 4, as she sadly contemplated the death of her son on the 16th anniversary of the tragedy.

At the July 2014 funeral for Eric Garner at Bethel Baptist Church in Brooklyn, she told the Amsterdam News, “I always hope that I do not have to attend another funeral for someone killed by the police, but here we are again. It is very sad.”

Despite her own personal loss, she remains committed to the cause of ending police brutality.

She created the Amadou Diallo Foundation in 2005, named for her 23-year-old son, who was gunned down in 1999 by four police officers firing 41 bullets. It was a case that absorbed New York City, as protestors took to the streets, One Police Plaza and City Hall for months. Kadiatou Diallo maintains that her foundation grounds itself in the purpose of promoting “racial healing through activities, including programs in the public schools, that seek to diminish prejudice and racial conflict and enhance police-community relations.”

Amadou Diallo, who immigrated from Guinea in West Africa, was returning to his home in the Soundview section of the Bronx. He was accosted by the four officers, who, in a case of mistaken identity, gunned him down in a hail of bullets. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

According to official police records, the four police officers—Sean Carroll, Richard Murphy, Edward McMellon and Kenneth Boss, assigned to the Street Crimes Unit (motto: “We Own the Night”)—were investigating a series of rapes when they encountered Diallo. Onlookers witnessed the group in a verbal altercation, which resulted in the officers drawing their weapons and killing Diallo. The officers claimed they thought he was drawing a weapon, when he was actually reaching for his wallet to identify himself.

Diallo, who had no previous criminal record, had arrived in the U.S. three years earlier, applying for political asylum. Three of the officers had been involved in previous shootings, one of which resulted in the death of a civilian. All of the officers were acquitted of any crimes. The shooting and the acquittal raised loud questions about police brutality and accountability, and about racial profiling.

Observers note that 16 years later, one would think that positive steps would have been made toward ending police brutality. But in the wake of cases such as Eric Garner, Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin, New York City, as well as the nation, is still facing injustices by those in positions of authority.

Graham Weatherspoon, a retired detective who independently investigated the Diallo case in 1999, said he found another bullet hole. “There were 42 shots fired,” he stated. “Not 41.”

He, like many others, questioned the whole story the police told. The notorious Street Crimes Unit was supposedly disbanded, but the police killings of Sean Bell and Ousmane Zongo years later illustrated the point that the issue was far from resolved.

Weatherspoon noted that the foundation is holding the conference in the hopes that it “will enable the board members of ADF and the public to listen to views and recommendations expressed by current and former members of the NYPD and other law enforcement agencies and community residents to improve police-community relations.”

Asked how she was coping on the anniversary of her son’s killing, Kadiatou Diallo assured the Amsterdam News that she was with friends and family. She said, “It’s the same thing every year, I have to go through the 4th. But I thank everyone for their kind words, and for remembering Amadou.”