Photo by Alan Carroll

Photo by Alan Carroll

In the same halls where Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King once spoke, hundreds of people gathered at Riverside Church for a multi-denominational service and documentary film screening commemorating the life and tragic death of Amadou Diallo, an African immigrant violently shot and killed by New York City Police years ago this weekend.

The documentary film “The Death of Two Sons” is a provocative and heartfelt narrative of the lives and deaths of Amadou Diallo and American Peace Corps volunteer Jesse Thyne who was “adopted” as a son by the Diallo family while teaching math at a Middle School in the village in Guinea, West Africa. Directed by former Peace Corps volunteer Micah Schaffer and produced by New York City activist Alrick Brown, the film portrays the connections and contrasts between the violent murder of a black son in America and the tragic car accident that killed a white American “son” in Guinea.

Poignant interviews with family members on both continents, vivid photographs of Amadou’s struggles selling handbags on the street to pay for college, and nostalgic voice recordings of Jesse sharing his dreams of a better world community reveal the ties that bind the lives of these two young men separated by race, class and continents. But we also see the startling contrast between a Guinean village that came together to bring strict justice and safer roads in the aftermath of a white American’s accidental death, and the shameful Albany acquittal of the four plain clothed police officers responsible for firing 41 bullets that murdered an innocent black man.

The energy binding these two young men’s lives was clearly the love, pain, and strength of Mme. Katiatou Diallo, Amadou’s mother and host mother to the two young men, who was clearly the guiding presence for this night’s commemoration. Since her sons’ tragic deaths, she has provided 20 African immigrants with scholarships to Bronx Community and Borrough of Manhattan Community College to help them live Amadou’s dream.

Among other speakers at Riverside Church were former Mayor David Dinkins and Imam Souleyman Konate, who shared touching accounts of Amadou’s life and connecting this tragedy to the more recent police shooting of Sean Bell that eerily echoes Amadou’s death. There were allusions to the need for further action, but the focus of the evening was to commemorate the two young men’s lives.

19 year old Fanta Cisse of Harlem, who had immigrated to the US from the Ivory Coast one month after Amadou’s shooting, was touched by the film. “This film is a good opportunity for people to learn from the actions and mistakes of the past… although some of the people who could learn the most from this movie are not here.”

Producer Alrick Brown dissuades these concerns. “The most important people to help solve this problem are here,” he explained. “People hear ‘Amadou Diallo’ and see him as a symbol of police brutality and racism, even to the point of dehumanizing him. But the more that people see Amnadou and Sean Bell as brothers, as sons, and as friends, the harder it is for people to commit these violent acts. We just need to spread the word to others so they will know their stories too.”

Future screening of The Death of Two Sons can be found at www.deathoftwosons.org