Friday, April 25, 2008

Setting Dangerous Precedents: Sean Bell's Killers Acquitted

It's Amadou Diallo part II: Sean Bell's killers have been acquitted of shooting 50 rounds at Bell and his friends on that fateful night back on November 25, 2006. At the conclusion of the bench trial requested by the defendants (who, apparently, did not trust the very people that they have pledged to protect and to serve), Judge Arthur T. Cooperman declared that all three men charged (despite the fact that there were five officers involved in the incident) did not act in a criminal manner when they killed Sean Bell and wounded his friends, all of whom were unarmed. Adding insult to injury, Judge Cooperman said that the testimony of Bell's friends at times did not make sense.

Numerous questions have to be asked about this case and its conclusion. What kind of precedent does this set for the NYPD and victims of police violence? First Amadou Diallo's killers get off the hook (following a dubious move to Albany - a much whiter city than New York) after firing 41 shots at the African immigrant, and now Sean Bell's killers, after firing 50 shots, are also off the hook. What is interesting is that with previous NYPD killings, while those officers involved were acquitted of criminal charges, large monetary settlements were given to the families of the victims. Amadou Diallo's family received $3 million, Patrick Dorismond's family got $2.25 million, and Timothy Stansbury's family received $2 million. I would be highly surprised if Bell's family did not receive some sort of compensation for their loss at the hands of the police department. But this begs the question: if the justice system thinks that these officers did nothing wrong, why settle with the families? By giving someone money (which is a shitty substitute for seeing those who killed your loved one put to justice), are you not admitting wrongdoing? If the NYPD is just doing what they're trained to do by gunning down these unarmed black men, then why pay the families of those who obviously had to be doing something wrong to get such a violent response from these trained officers?

I also want to go back to a case that I discussed a little over a year ago that occurred in Rhode Island. A corrections officer named Dante Pingitore was scoring some coke in Providence when he was approached by state police. Pingitore, in response to this, "rammed" his car into an unmarked police cruiser with officers inside. Pingitore could assumed to be armed, because he was a corrections officer for his state, yet his showdown with cops was resolved without firing a single shot. The interesting thing about this case (in case you could not figure it out from his Italian name) Pingitore is, by all available evidence short of an actual photo, white. If Rhode Island cops can prevent violence in a nearly carbon-copy case of Sean Bell's, why can't the NYPD? Does this mean that the NYPD is less trained or worse at their job than Rhode Island troopers? No two cases are the exact same, but these two cases are very similar and it should be noted that one ended with a person being given paid leave and bail and the other being buried.

Other questions that seem to remain unanswered: if the officers present that night were so certain that Bell and his friends not only had a gun, but were psychics and knew that Bell and his friends would go back to their car to get said gun and commit a drive-by (maybe the cops are related to Ms. Cleo?), why allow them to get into the car? Was it an example of NYPD brinksmanship? Why did Gescard Isnora open fire? Did he see a gun, or was he just going off of the equivalent of a middle-school rumor (well, someone said it, so it must be true)? Maybe he saw one of the victims' hands and took a page out of Sean Sawyer's playbook. It is amazing how the defense portrayed the whole thing as Joseph Guzman's (one of Bell's friends) fault. They said that because Guzman told Bell to go as Isnora approached the car, he caused all of this. Let's kick some logic for a moment: you just got into an argument with a group outside of a strip club and then some guy approaches your car with a gun drawn. Are you going to stick around to see what happens? Hell no. (Quick note: Isnora said that he clipped his badge to his collar and yelled "police." It was the middle of the night in November, so the car windows were probably closed, and thus they would not have heard Isnora's shout or seen his badge, if he even did this, as witnesses say that Isnora neither yelled police or had his badge visible.) So without seeing a gun or confirming the presence of any kind of weapon, Detective Isnora fired the first shot, leading to 49 more shots from him and his colleagues.

The most ridiculous part of this entire case is probably the role of Detective Michael Oliver - the man who shot 31 shots at Bell and his companions. Now you might be saying to yourself "Wow, I didn't know that the department-issued glocks had banana clips that held so much ammunition." Well, they don't. Oliver emptied an entire clip into the vehicle, felt that was not enough for a group of unarmed men, reloaded and pumped some more lead into the car. Oliver also has shown very little remorse for his actions, partying after the indictments for the charges were handed down. Bell's parents also seem to notice that, of all three detectives, Oliver seems to be remorseless and cocky. Oliver is also no stranger to violence while on-duty. He apparently put a cab driver's head through a window when he thought that the cab driver took too long to move his double-parked car. Oliver admitted no wrongdoing, but the city settled for $10 Gs, which again begs the question of accepting guilt. It is interesting that Judge Cooperman found Bell's friends' testimonies not believable, but found Oliver emptying a clip, reloading, and still believing to be threatened by unarmed men perfectly rational.

Additionally, many point to past activities of the victims as a reason that little sympathy should be felt for them. It is true that Bell, who's record is not squeaky clean, also hung out with people whose records were not squeaky clean. But unless the cops were familiar with the three men and their records prior to the incident, this means nothing. They could have been doctors or lawyers blowing off some steam for all the cops knew. Additionally, many point to the three victims saying that they were less-than-stellar members of society and this contributed to their death. At least Sean Bell graduated high school, which cannot be said for Michael Oliver. Bell's previous arrests were all for non-violent offenses, while Oliver has previously been involved in violent confrontations over such life-threatening matters as double-parking. Of course, people don't focus on this.

Finally, many news outlets have said that because two of the cops were minorities, this shooting could not have been racially motivated. Give me a break. The guy who shot the most was white and anyone who has dealt with cops will tell you that the only color that matters to them is the color of their uniform - blue. Black cops and Latino cops can be just as judgmental and racist as white cops. To quote an NWA line, "But don't let it be a black and a white one / Cuz they'll slam ya down to the street top / Black police showin out for the white cop." Racial profiling permeates police departments and does not affect only white cops; cops (and people, for that matter) of all races and nationalities fall victim to profiling people by the color of their skin.

The only solace that can come from this is the fact that these three officers will never work undercover again because their faces have been plastered all over the world. Judge Cooperman called their actions careless, but not criminal (though, last time I checked, recklessness that leads to a death is a crime, but let's not get tied down with what the law says) and hopefully all three will no longer be employed by the NYPD. Let's hope that Al Sharpton keeps his trap shut and some legitimate leaders say some intelligent things about the bullshit that occurred today instead of going through the usual rhetoric of the reverend. Rest in peace, Sean Bell, and hopefully justice will come to your killers someday. Peace.

Photos - Marc Cooper, Michael Oliver, and Gescard Isnora (l-r) (, Sean Bell, his fiancee Nicole Paultre-Bell, and their child (, Judge Arthur T. Cooperman (, The scene of Sean Bell's death the following morning (Pan-African News News Wire Photo File's flickr), The scene outside of the Queens courthouse following the verdict (, Never Again - hopefully not (


  1. There is no need for sympathy for Sean Bell. If he had not threatened to kill those officers, and if he had not gotten into his car and tried to run them over, then he would not have been shot.

    I'm glad there was a trial, though. It was a violent incident that needed to be looked into. And I'm glad all the officers were acquitted. Their brave action against the mad dog Bell saved a lot of innocent lives that night.

    Last but not least, this shooting was not racist. It is not racist to kill dangerous criminals - even black ones.

  2. There are essentially two sides to this argument. There is the one side, which you seem to be taking, that says, essentially, Sean Bell brought his killing upon himself through his actions and then there is the other side that paint the cops as murderous pigs.

    The way I see it, the reality of the situation falls somewhere in between. We cannot paint Sean Bell's killers as monsters or animals, the same way that we cannot paint Sean Bell as an animal. What happened that night back in November of 2006 is still a mystery. The cops say that a man ran out of the back of the car and that he had a gun, but said man nor said gun have been found.

    Looking at the facts of the case, however, it appears that not only did one of the officers who shot (incidentally, it was his bullets that hit all three of the car's occupants) at the car have a propensity for violence and a somewhat checkered past, but there was no gun in the car. As far as Bell using his car as a weapon, I do not buy that argument because if a guy ran up to me outside of some strip club in the middle of the night waving a gun at me, I'm going to try to get the hell out of there, too. Plus, if Bell truly wanted to hurt one of the officers with a one-ton car, I think he would have been able to do a little more damage than a skinned knee.

    Sean Bell had been arrested for non-violent crimes and was released on his own recognizance every time, meaning that the charges either did not stick or were so minor as to not even warrant any type of bail. To paint Bell as an animal, when in reality he at least had a high school diploma (when some of the other officers did not) is a little extreme.

    As far as Bell threatening to kill the officers, there is nothing on record as to this happening. I highly doubt that if Sean Bell had been allowed to leave that "a lot of innocent lives" would have been lost. Remember, Bell nor any of his friends had any type of weapons on them. It appears that in this case it was the police who took innocent lives that night, not Bell or any of his friends.

    As to the racist aspect of it, I doubt that if Bell and his friends had been white that they would have gotten 50 shots. Looking at the history of the NYPD and the innocent lives of minorities that they have taken compared to the innocent lives of whites that they have taken, I think it is safe to say that, at the very least, 50 shots would not have been fired had Bell and his friends been born to white parents.