Mistakes That Only Happen on One Side of Town

By: Marc H. Morial

President and CEO

National Urban League

One can say with nearly complete certainty that Alberta Spruill and Ousmane Zongo, despite being residents of Harlem, were two people whose paths would never have crossed.
It was not the difference in their ages. Ms. Spruill was 57; Mr. Zongo was 35.

Nor of their nationalities. Ms. Spruill was born in America; Mr. Zongo had come to America several years ago from the West African country of Burkina Faso.

No, their paths would not likely have crossed because, according to those who knew each of them, they had similar personalities: They were individuals who, while friendly toward those they knew, tended to keep to themselves.

Ms. Spruill's sister told the New York Times that "She was a churchgoing person who went to work every day and minded her own business."

Friends of Mr. Zongo said he was a quiet, gentle man who worked tirelessly in order to send money back his wife, two young children and mother in Burkina Faso.

Now, tragically, Alberta Spruill and Ousmane Zongo also have something else in common. Although they lived all their lives decently, quietly, and within the boundaries of the law, both of them died in the past two weeks because of the actions of New York City police officers.

As a result, for some, their deaths have rekindled memories of the troubled period in New York City in the late 1990s when incidents involving the brutal police assault on Abner Louima, and police killings of Amadou Diallo, and Patrick Dorismond underscored a chasm of mistrust African Americans, in New York and elsewhere, had towards police.

Ms. Spruill died the morning of May 16

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