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Wednesday, March 1, 2000 FULL SHOW | HEADLINES | PREVIOUS: Harvest of Empire: Latinos in the U.S.A.
2000-03-01

The Diallo Project

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A crowd of 75 protesters angry with the acquittal of four white New York City police officers in the shooting death of Amadou Diallo scuffled with police and blocked rush-hour traffic yesterday.

The Diallo shooting death has angered people around the country and has compelled many people to take action. People have found their own ways of responding to Diallo’s death, as well as to the acquittal of the four officers charged with killing the Guinean immigrant. Some people have participated in protests and civil disobedience actions, and some have been arrested.

Meanwhile, others have decided to make a statement through artistic expression. Weldon Irvine, composer, lyricist, musical director and arranger, has produced the Amadou Project, a collection of songs dedicated to Amadou Diallo.

Guest:

  • Weldon Irvine, producer of the Amadou Project.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Speaking of which, this is a perfect segue into our last segment. You did a column yesterday on Amadou Diallo called "Carry Wrong Wallet? Not on Your Life." Maybe you can read a little part of it before we introduce our next guest.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Yes. Well, the column starts out:

I went shopping for a new wallet yesterday afternoon on Westchester Ave. in the Bronx.

The old wallet was in fairly good condition, and I had become accustomed to the soft, worn leather in my back pocket. But familiar or not, it had to go.

It was, you see, a black wallet — much too dangerous to carry these days around the inner city.

I stopped at Jack’s Discount, which is a few blocks away from where Amadou Diallo once lived. Jack’s is one of those places that sells everything from Roach Motels to living room sets. But not wallets.

At a tiny stall outside, a young black man was hawking knit caps, gloves and scarves. At the back of the stall were several small stacks of men’s wallets.

"Let me see those," I said.

"Five dollars," the young man said in an accent I couldn’t quite place.

The stack, however, was mostly black. Men’s wallets have never been fashion statements.

"Any other colors?"

He pulled a lone dark brown from the bottom of one pile. I frowned. He plucked a dark blue from the bottom of another pile.

"No good," I said. "You heard of Amadou Diallo?"

"Amadou!" he said. His words sounded like a war cry. "I don’t know from that."

I pressed him for another color. From the bottom of the third pile he snatched up two light tan ones with an ugly crown pattern and the word "MARCA’S" stamped all over them.

That would have to do.

Around the corner from Wheeler Ave. was the Beeper Care Center. Black cell phones and black beepers are now another problem.

Maria Martinez was standing behind thick plexiglass in the store talking to a customer.

On display in the window were face plates for cell phones. There was a lime green plate and a flaming orange plate and a pink neon plate.

"How much for those?" I asked her.

"They’re 15, 20 or 30 dollars, depends on the phone and the brand of plate," she said. "Nokias are the most expensive. Some customers buy different ones to match what they’re wearing."

I asked about the beepers on display. They came in a dozen bright colors, even yellow.

"Same price in color or black," Martinez said. "The kids prefer colors. Standard Telcom makes them. But the Motorola only come in black. They’re top of the line. Don’t need any color when you’re on top."

And then I go on to talk about the scene in front of Wheeler Avenue and all the people that were coming in to leave flowers in the building, in the vestibule, where Amadou Diallo was shot, and say:

At one point, four elderly black women got out of a car. "Will you look at how small it is," said Madge Smith, one of the four. She had come all the way from Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn.

"How can you fire 41 shots into that tiny space?" Smith said. "Those jurors should have come here and seen for themselves. The poor man couldn’t run anywhere."

They came and went all day, the anger and the hurt so deep many could not talk.

And so, then I go on to talk about some of the other people who went there. And finally, I end the column saying:

Those who expected rioting this weekend ended up relieved that only protest ensued. They do not understand the greatest fallout from Amadou’s death.

In the black and brown neighborhoods of the city — even among many whites — the faith no longer exists that ordinary citizens and police will be judged the same way by our legal system.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Juan Gonzalez in the New York Daily News, and you can go to our website at www.democracynow.org, which links to Juan’s columns.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: "Amadou," sung by Rich Medina, Rha-Goddess, Don Blackman, Carla Cook, Weldon Irvine, and Kadiadou Diallo, at least a clip of Amadou’s mother in this piece. It is the first on a CD called The Price of Freedom: The Amadou Project. That’s right, as in Philadelphia yesterday, 75 protesters, angry about the acquittal of the New York City police officers in the shooting death of Amadou Diallo, scuffled with police and blocked rush-hour traffic; and as thousands marched in New York this weekend, scores of people arrested; and as hundreds are going down to Washington tomorrow to the Justice Department to demand a federal investigation and a federal civil rights case brought against the four police officers who were acquitted; others have decided to make a statement through artistic expression.

Weldon Irvine is with us. He’s a composer, lyricist, musical director and arranger. He produced this CD, The Amadou Project, which is a collection of songs dedicated to Amadou Diallo.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Weldon Irvine.

WELDON IRVINE: Thank you for having me here. My pleasure.

AMY GOODMAN: Tell us about the day you heard about the death of Amadou Diallo.

WELDON IRVINE: Yes, it was last year. The date was February 5th. And he was on the front page of the paper that Juan writes for, the Daily News. I saw his picture and the big caption, “41 Shots.” I read and re-read the whole piece and was incensed, as incensed as are they who are protesting now. But I decided to keep myself within the confines of my own home. I didn’t trust myself to go in the street. I was very, very vexed. And I made my expressions manifest through a poem, which was rather lengthy. At the time, I vented everything I felt about Amadou’s death, about the killing of black people in this country since day one. And I called the Amsterdam News, requesting that they would look at it, perhaps publish it. They stated that they did not do poetry, in general, particularly long poetry, so I thanked them very much. I wrote five more poems, 10 more poems, and then the musical muse hit, and I said, “Wait a minute. I’m a musician. I think I’ll make it songs.” And so, the end result was, after five months, I completed The Amadou Project, which is the collaboration of myself and many stellar poets, musicians and singers.

[Black Star and Q-Tip "Make It All Better"]

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Black Star and Q-Tip, "Make It All Better." Our guest is Master Wel. That’s right, our guest is Weldon Irvine, who’s put together The Amadou Project.

JUAN GONZALEZ: What’s been the reaction? How long has it been out now?

WELDON IRVINE: Actually, it hasn’t been out proper. It’s independently released, and I didn’t think that any of the Warner Brothers or Columbias would be beating a path to my door to release it, so it’s self-distributed. But the reaction since the trial has been quite accelerated. I completed it back in July of last year, but now I’m getting quite a few requests for it.

AMY GOODMAN: I have to say that we’ve been playing parts of it on Democracy Now! A nun called from California yesterday saying, “How do I get that hip-hop piece?” If people do want to get this, since it’s not your standard Barnes and Noble or Tower Records, whatever, where can they call or go on the web?

WELDON IRVINE: Well, for The Amadou Project, you may call 1-800-468-2646. That’s 1-800-468-2646, asking for The Amadou Project. Or you may dial this website: www.usgoldcoins.com, www.usgoldcoins.com.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: And again, that number, 1-800-468-2646, so that you don’t overwhelm our phones. 1-800-468-2646. Weldon Irvine, thanks for being with us. The CD is The Price of Freedom: The Amadou Project.

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