Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A Step Towards Justice?

Sean Bell memorial (Wikipedia)
It was announced this week that three of the five officers involved in the death of Sean Bell hours before his wedding day were indicted on criminal charges with two of the officers facing manslaughter charges and assault charges while the third man is facing only assault charges.

For those of you out of the loop, Sean Bell was out for his bachelor party at a club in Queens that was being investigated by undercover detectives for various violations, such as prostitution, underage drinking, and weapons violations. Bell and his party of two other men (all three black) got into an argument with some of the patrons of the club in the early hours of the morning and, according to the accused detectives, someone alluded to a firearm.

At that point Bell and his party walked back to their car and were shot by the detectives when the boys in blue apparently saw a passenger in the car reaching for a gun through the blackness of the pre-dawn hours and opened fire with 50 rounds, killing Bell and injuring his two passengers.

This caused outrage among New York City's population, as it brought back memories of the not-so-distant past of the NYPD and its murder of Amadou Diallo and the torture of Abner Louima. Now three of the five officers have been indicted for the crime that was committed and two of them face up to 25 years in prison.

However, reading the BBC news article I noticed something seemed awry. Detective Gescard Isnora, who, according to the article, fired the first shot, pulled his trigger 11 times and is charged with manslaughter and assault. Detective Michael Oliver discharged his weapon 31 times during the incident, which meant that he had to reload in the middle of his trigger-happy episode and empty a second clip and is also charged with manslaughter and assault. So the total between these two cops alone is 42.

The third man charged, Detective Marc Cooper, shot his weapon 4 times, which brings the total to 46 shots. That means that two detectives have gotten away with shooting 4 rounds at the unarmed men. There is no way to know whose bullets killed Sean Bell and injured his two friends. Sure, statistically Isnora and Oliver most likely shot the deadly bullets, but last time I checked the court requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

In order to make sure that Sean Bell's murderer sees justice, all of the police officers who discharged their weapons should be charged with murder, because if there were three civilians on a scene who shot at a person who died, I cannot imagine that the DA and a grand jury would pick and choose who to charge.

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