…And Justice For All

If you are a newsie (kind of like a foodie, but with news) like me, you\’ve definitely seen and heard the \”not guilty on all counts\” verdict in the trial of NYPD officers who shot and killed a groom-to-be the day of his wedding.

If you aren\’t familiar with the case, it echoes the 1999 shooting of Amadou Diallo; a quick and concise summary of the case can be found on CNN.

For a more detailed account the NY Times has excellent coverage, especially this article.

After what happened in 1999, how could this happen again? Well, I think the details of this case are very different than the Diallo case; and this is my take on what\’s happened.

The NYPD were staking out a strip club where prostitution and drug deals were happening. They heard rumors that someone in the club had a gun and were on high alert. A group of three men come out of the club get into an argument with another man. An officer thinks he overhears one of the three men say \”go get my gun\”. The three go and get into their car. At that time an officer approached the car with his gun drawn. He identifies himself as a police officer and I\’ve read that he had his badge clipped on his collar.

Now this is all very believable, and probably true, but… The three men in the car had been drinking. The driver of the car, Sean Bell, had an estimated BAC of .16 to .20. Think about what is going through Sean Bell\’s intoxicated mind at that moment. He\’s in a dangerous neighborhood, he just got into an argument with another person and as he is leaving someone approaches his car with a gun drawn. What would you do? If it were me, whether I was sober or not, I\’d be scared out of my mind. I would want to get out of there as quickly as possible. Which is exactly what happened, Sean Bell put the car into gear and ran into the officer and a van holding other officers. Sean Bell backed up and tried again to drive off, hitting the van a second time and coming to a stop. At this point the officer who was hit by the car, Det. Isnora, unloads every bullet in his gun, 11 shots. A second officer, Det. Oliver, emptied his gun as well, reloaded, and emptied that clip as well; for a total of 31 shots. The result was the death of Sean Bell.

What could have prevented this tragedy?

For one, better police procedure. Why did a single officer approach the front of the car with no option for taking cover? If the three suspects needed to be stopped, why wait until they got to the car where the police thought the gun would be? When the officer approached, why not hold the gun in one hand and the badge in another? In that sort of darkness and holding a gun out in front of you, can it be expected that a person seated in a car could see a police badge clipped to a collar?

Another question, was the nearly 50 shots fired by three officers justifiable use of force?

From what I\’ve read, the legal interpretation only looks at if the first shot was justified; the total number of shots is irrelevant. This contradicts common sense; but we\’re talking about the law, so common sense has no jurisdiction here. In my opinion, any rational person would say that emptying a gun, reloading, and emptying a second clip would probably qualify as excessive use of force.

Two of the three officers who fired shots that night were charged with felonies of first degree manslaughter all the way down to misdemeanors of reckless endangerment. The third officer was only charged with misdemeanors.

Based on what we know, I reluctantly agree with the not guilty verdict on the charges of manslaughter. It was a horrible accident that could have been prevented with better procedures by the police and if the victim had not panicked. But the fact remains that a cop, who identified himself as such, was hit by a car and he would be justified to open fire. But to let these cops off the hook on all charges is beyond my comprehension. The charges of reckless endangerment state: Firing a bullet that passes through the window of an occupied residence, For discharging pistols on a street where others were present, and For firing a bullet that passed through the nearby AirTrain station. Assuming the charges were based on evidence of shots that hit a residence and the AirTrain station; how are they not guilty of these crimes? Will there be any consequences for these men internally with the NYPD? Any punishment of any kind???

In the aftermath of the death of Sean Bell and the verdict, the issue of race has been front and center. \”This case was not about justice,\” declared Leroy Gadsden, chair of the police/community relations committee of the Jamaica Branch NAACP. \”This case was about the police having a right to be above the law. If the law was in effect here, if the judge had followed the law truly, these officers would have been found guilty. … This court, unfortunately, is bankrupt when it comes to justice for people of color.\”

I \”almost\” agree with him.

First, it should be noted that two of the officers charged were black.

Second, and more importantly this is not about race, it is about socio-economic standing. You take the same situation, same place, same actions, but change it from three black men to three white men. Same outcome.

Now, move the setting from Queens to the Upper East Side and keep it as three black men, but wearing suits. Same situation, same actions, but I don’t think the same result happens.

Why? Because of socio-economics. The officers would not expect a group of men wearing suits in the Upper East Side to be as dangerous as the same group exiting a strip club in Queens. The men in the car may not have have panicked because in the upper east side your first thought may not be that the person approaching your car with a gun would have to be a robber or a killer. Now if you want to equate wealth to race… then who is the one being racist?

However, I would also say if the cops shot some rich white people there would have been a lot more pressure to convict. There are certainly elements of race in society and it\’s going to take a couple more generations before it\’s an afterthought (on both sides), but justice in America is about your standing in society; which in today\’s world is more about wealth than race. If it was a group of rich white men and all the evidence was the same, I truly do believe the same outcome of not-guilty would have happened… although maybe the officers would have gotten nailed on the misdemeanors like they should have in the first place.







Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *