Monday, April 9, 2007

Sean Bell's White Counterpart?

Over the weekend a Rhode Island corrections officer named Dante Pingitore was arrested for trying to score some drugs in Providence, Rhode Island. Big deal, right? While someone attempting to buy coke and getting busted for it, even a corrections officer, is not Earth-shattering news, the details of the case are very similar to one that occurred in New York City in Febraury that was Earth-shattering. According to the Boston.com article, Rhode Island State Police somehow got information that Pingitore was going to purchase some illicit substances in Providence and they were able to nab him, but not before he "rammed" (Boston.com's terminology) his car into an unmarked state cruiser with po-po inside. If you're thinking to yourself, "Wow, this sound similar to that case in New York where three black men were shot by police outside a nightclub when their car hit an unmarked police car trying to flee a hail of NYPD-issued bullets," then you would be right.

However, there is, of course, one major difference. While exhaustive searches online could not yield of photo of Pingitore, chances are the man is white. He comes from North Kingstown, Rhode Island (96% white, 1% black), and while I am no etymologist, the name Pingitore sounds slightly Italian which, by today's standards, is white. Therefore, the main aspect of these two cases (Dante Pingitore's and Sean Bell's) is the person's skin color. So just a quick recap: Pingitore is discovered to be trying to score some coke in Providence, is a corrections officer and thus has a gun (see page 4 of link), rams his car into an unmarked cruiser with someone inside of it, and yet at no point do the police officers at the scene feel the need to open fire. Conversely, Sean Bell and two friends leave a nightclub following a bachelor party, get into a verbal argument with some of the patrons, go back to their car to leave and are shot at 50 times by the police. (As a quick sidenote, some witnesses have said that someone in Bell's group alluded to a gun and it is unclear whether the car the party was in hit the police van before or after the gunfire). So even if someone alluded to a gun and the police van was hit before police opened fire, the cases are still very similar. But Pingitore is out on bail and paid leave and Sean Bell is 6 feet under. There was a greater chance that Pingitore had a gun than Bell and his friends because Pingitore is a CO, Pingitore "rammed" into an unmarked police cruiser trying to elude authorities while it is unclear when Bell and his party hit the unmarked NYPD van, but because Pingitore is white he got the benefit of the doubt and because Sean Bell and his friends were black they were shot first, then asked questions later. This is an excellent example of how race plays an important factor into a person's (in this case, and sadly many cases, a cop's) decisions and actions toward another person. Peace.

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