Vol. 13, No. 5 March 9 - 22, 2000


Focus on Diallo Case at Tracey Black History Brunch


Tracey Towers residents celebrated their sixth annual Black History Month Brunch on Saturday, Feb. 26, but the emphasis was very much on current events with guest speaker Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson explaining his role in the Diallo shooting trial. With the acquittal of the police officers involved in the nationally publicized trial just the night before, Johnson faced an audience anxious for more facts on how his office prepared and prosecuted the case.

But before Johnson addressed the group, Assemblyman Jeffrey Klein, who sponsors the yearly event, devoted much of his opening comments to the same topic.

Klein, who took issue with the way defense attorneys depicted Soundview, the neighborhood where Diallo lived, said the stories of witnesses during the trial depicted a block much like any other in the city or the state -- someone changing a baby's diaper, another person watching TV with her family, and another young man walking home who was in the Police Academy. "The Soundview community is a hard-working community," Klein said in an interview after the event. "The reason they're there is to get their share of the American dream." He added that "part of the problem is how we're painting these communities."

Klein said that although the shooting wasn't an isolated incident, "it's not an indictment of the entire Police Department." But he added, "We as a city have to make sure everyone is comfortable with the police and clearly the minority community is not."

At the brunch, Klein also presented State Assembly awards to Tracey residents Rosemary Brown, Nelson Ross and Cynthia Williams. The event was organized by the Tracey Towers Networking Committee.

District Attorney Johnson opened his remarks by saying, "It has been a long day. I left Albany this morning by car at 8:15. In fact, it has been a long month, it has been a long year."

"Those who have expressed outrage, are not inappropriate at all, not at all," Johnson said. "Indeed, it is amazing that this entire state and nation has not expressed outrage over the fact that an innocent person, an unarmed person, in his own vestibule could lose his life in such a violent and wrongful manner."

"Right at this moment," Johnson said, "it is hard for us to look at our justice system in a positive light. I think the defining moment was the decision of the Appellate Division to remove this case to Albany."

Johnson said a poll was taken by defense attorneys regarding the ability of prospective Bronx jurors to hear the case, and those citizens responded that they could be impartial.

"So the Appellate Division ignored that," he said. "They ignored the people of the Bronx. They ignored the fact that in places like Tracey Towers, right here in this room, we could find 12 people who would be fair and impartial."

As to the trial, Johnson defended the performance of his staff.

"I had the ability to rely on a very, very talented staff. I think people have really minimized the amount of effort that we put into this."

"I can understand somebody saying 'I would have done this different or I would have done that different'" he said. "When you're trying a case, you make judgement calls, but I cannot understand somebody who questioned our efforts and commitment to the case."

In concluding his remarks, the DA linked the case to landmarks of black history. "So now, Amadou Diallo, an innocent, hard-working peddler from Guinea, has taken his place in the history of this nation. It is my hope that we will learn from this, that somehow we will reach the people that don't understand the fear some people have in their neighborhoods, not only from the criminals, but from the police.

"This is an opportunity," he concluded. "Please, everyone open their eyes facing the rising sun of a new day begun, let us march on 'til victory is won."

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