The coincidental, near parallel deaths of unarmed Guinean immigrant (and innocent victim), Amadou Diallo in the hallway of his apartment building at the hands of over-aggressive police officers in 1999, and American Peace Corps volunteer Jesse Thyne on the treacherous rural roads of Guinea en route back to Diallo’s ancestral village, serve as a potent and thought provoking framework for Micah Schaffer’s trenchant, impassioned, and deeply moving social interrogation on the nature of economic imperialism, racial privilege, marginalization, and cultural arrogance in Death of Two Sons. Far from the terse, tabloid encapsulation of Diallo’s tragically cut short life as a common West African street peddler, the film traces Diallo’s often under-emphasized privileged upbringing, globetrotting, and enrollment in some of the finest schools as the son of an international businessman who, rather than stay in Guinea where he would have undoubtedly coasted through a high ranking career and become one of the nation’s emerging leaders, went against his family’s wishes to instead forge a new life in the U.S., seeing his struggle as building the rudiments of an instilled work ethic that would build character and ensure his future success I his adopted country. Similarly, Jesse Thyne, the adopted son of a California pastor, lived a life of middle-class comfortability, an uneventful upbringing that, as his parents surmise, may have been deeply marked by his childhood experience with abandonment in the early years before his adoption into their family. Unable to find his birth mother, Jesse would later join the Peace Corps, perhaps as a means of embracing all of humanity as his interconnected identity, where he was assigned to work in Diallo’s ancestral village as a teacher, often dining with Diallo’s extended family, and subsequently, was invited to attend to his funeral. A few months later, as a passenger on a taxi hired to transport several Peace Corps volunteer back to their villages after a holiday outing, Thyne and a fellow volunteer, Justin Bhansali would also perish, this time, at the scene of a high impact vehicle collision. However, as Schaffer incisively captures, what inevitably characterizes the uncanny coincidence of Diallo and Thyne’s proximal deaths is not the eerily karmic connection between these two young men who have never met, but rather, the profound disparity in the way that justice was carried out in the aftermath of their deaths. Contrasting the acquittal of the four New York City police officers on all charges – including the lesser included offense of reckless endangerment – with the three year prison sentence handed out by the Guinean court to the taxi driver as punishment for an analogous vehicular offense for speeding (and subsequently led to a nationwide road safety campaign in memory of the Peace Corps victims), the inescapable sentiment of inequitable justice is precisely articulated in a comment by Thyne’s father that, while “Jesse’s death was a tragedy, Amadou’s death was a tragedy and a travesty.”
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