It’s been a year and a half since Sean Bell and his two friends were shot 26 times by five NYPD officers. Bell was to be married later that day. He and his friends (who both survived) were unarmed. It seems likely that they didn’t even realize they were being confronted by plainclothes police officers, as opposed to being carjacked at gunpoint.
This morning, all of the police officers got off scot-free. They didn’t even receive a token “reckless endangerment” conviction, perhaps because the presiding judge was of the opinion that “Carelessness is not a crime.” Really? Somehow I thought that’s what reckless endangerment and manslaughter charges were all about. I guess police can’t commit those crimes. If shooting 31 times — including pausing to reload — into a car full of unarmed men doesn’t qualify, I’m not sure what does.
There was no jury, just the judge, who acquitted the three cops on the grounds of faulty prosecution.
Justice Arthur Cooperman said he found problems with the prosecution’s case. He said some prosecution witnesses contradicted themselves, and he cited prior convictions and incarcerations of witnesses.
He also cited the demeanor of some witnesses on the stand.
In other words, how dare you bring witnesses to testify against police officers who have run afoul of the criminal justice system before? They’re too sketchy to be in my courtroom. Seriously… isn’t this the crux of the problem? A blatant example of who is listened to in our courts and who gets the shaft? This is exactly why it’s horrifyingly unsurprising that cops walk.
I ought to explain the headline I chose. I picked it in part because of my thoughts during my last post and the subsequent discussion. What is the subject of feminism? Where should feminism be located? Why am I posting about this on a feminist blog?
I’m sure that last part doesn’t surprise most of our regular readers. But somewhere out there, there certainly are some feminists who would not describe this as a feminist issue, despite the bereavement of Nicole Paultre Bell (who changed her name after her fiance’s death) and their daughter. Some writers might point to the fact that Sean Bell lay dead outside of a strip club in Queens where he was having his bachelor party, to his arrest record, or to his blood alcohol level. They could bring up the ugly, misogynist fact that one of Bell’s two friends previously pled guilty to hitting the mother of his child. Or the reports that Bell’s other friend got into an argument when pressured one of the club’s dancers to have paid sex with their entire group, which she didn’t want to do. Or they could just describe it as men killing men.
I feel kind of sick even mentioning all of these details surrounding an unarmed man who was gunned down with his friends on his wedding day. But I’m bringing them up precisely because I want to point out that these details do not matter and never have. All feminists should be familiar with victim-blaming and shifting the spotlight away from the executioners, the rapists, the impersonal forces that do their best to eliminate and kill women, the brown folks of the world, the poor, the different.
The problem here, as Delores Jones-Brown points out, is that there is a systemic pattern of police officers shooting unarmed suspects. The problem is that this disproportionately affects communities of color. The black men who are most often slaughtered by such violence, and all the women and children in their lives too, their loved ones, friends and relatives. A system that is all too eager to exonerate “the thin blue line” and continue business as usual. All of these are feminist issues. Racism must be a feminist issue, for any kind of feminism that counts. Police brutality must be; the biases of the criminal justice system must be.
I’ve seen and felt first-hand what can go down when the authorities feel entitled to do whatever they want to control people; when they are trigger happy, jumpy, and seem inexplicably invested in escalating a situation. Violence. I made it out with a tiny burning splotch on my face, Jack made it out with inflamed eyes full of tears. We were lucky, and privileged too. Bell’s friends made it out with 22 bullets in their bodies, but with their lives. Sean Bell was the one guy who didn’t.
I can only pray that the same escalation and readiness to start a fight doesn’t continue to infest the NYPD, who are out on the streets in New York today in force, just in case someone starts something over this injustice. Just in case “the radicals show up.”
Oh look, the radicals ARE going to show up — and peacefully, despite the assumptions of Police Commissioner Kelly. Are you in New York and want to join up? Here’s the information. Please come out if you can.
JUSTICE FOR SEAN BELL AND ALL VICTIMS OF POLICE VIOLENCE!!
COME OUT TODAY! APRIL 25th – VOICE YOUR OUTRAGE!!
PEOPLES JUSTICE for Community Control and Police Accountability is calling for a rally and community speak-out in front of the Queens DA’s office TODAY at 5:30 pm @ the Queens DA’s Office
125-01 Queens Blvd. (between Hoover Ave & 82nd Ave.)
E or F train to Union Turnpike
In Nov. 2006, Sean Bell was murdered by the NYPD in a hail of 50 bullets. His friends – Trent Benefield and Joseph Guzman – were seriously injured. 3 of the officers involved were acquitted of all charges in a bold affront to the human rights of Sean Bell and all of us.
The NYPD’s murder of Bell and attempted murders of Benefield and Guzman are NOT isolated or random events. They represent the continued targeting of communities of color by the police and the lack of accountability for police misconduct and abuse.
Endorsers (list in formation):
Allianza Dominicana, Audre Lorde Project, Black Radical Congress-NY, CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities, Center for Constitutional Rights, Congress for Korean Reunification, Critical Resistance, Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), DJ Chela, Domestic Workers United (DWU), El Puente, FIERCE, Fr. Luis Barrios – St. Mary’s Episcopal Church (West Harlem, Manhattan), Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition (NYC), Hasan Salaam, Hip Hop Caucus, Immigrant Justice Solidarity Project, Iglesia San Romero de Las Americas, International Action Center, Jews for Racial & Economic Justice (JFREJ), Justice Committee, Lynne Stewart Organization, Make the Road by Walking, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, Mano a Mano, May 1st Coalition, National Hip Hop Political Convention, New Abolitionists, Nodutdol for Korean Community Development, October 22nd Coalition, Parents Against Police Brutality, Party for the People, Rebel Diaz, Regeneracion, Revolting in Pink (R.I.P), Rights for Imprisoned People with Psychiatric Disabilities (RIPPD), Sylvia Rivera Law Project, VAMOS Unidos, War Resisters League, Where We Live Radio Program/WBAI-FM NY.
UPDATE: Jack has more on the fact that two of the acquitted officers are also black: “Two men of color acquitted, one dead,” as she puts it. Dianne aptly points out that racial profiling is at the heart of this, and littlem makes some important connections here in comments: when black people are portrayed as scary enemies of the white world, cops become more likely to shoot unarmed people — grandmothers, fathers, brothers, sons, girlfriends. (Thanks also to Grandpa Dinosaur for the video.) This is not “the cause” in a nutshell, in case anyone out there is spoiling for a straw-fight; but these things are absolutely connected. This is why challenging racist imagery is NOT just some kind of rhetorical game or political infighting — it’s far more important than any single magazine cover or book artwork.
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