The Bell Verdict

Shortly after it was announced, I was talking about the Sean Bell murder trial verdict Friday with a co-worker. She’s a young lawyer, whose family fled political unrest in Afghanistan when she was a child. Every day she works on cases related to the detention of Iraqi nationals at Guantanamo, so she knows a little bit about injustice. She was shocked by the acquittal of the three New York City Police officers. I wasn’t.

I’m 48 years old and I’ve been a black man living in America my whole life. I’ve seen this all too many times before. As I told her, the judicial system always gives police a free pass in wrongful death lawsuits. Always. It always gives them a free pass when the victim is black. Always.

Judges, district attorneys and police are all part of the same criminal justice system that is aligned to put so-called criminals behind bars, but rarely each other. After all, when the case is over, they still have to work together.

Remembering that in 2000 a jury in upstate Albany acquitted four police officers of the murder of an unarmed Amadou Diallo—after shooting him 41 times—I had mixed feelings when this case was to be tried in front of a judge and not a jury. Part of me said a judge might actually view the evidence objectively, understand the law and do the right thing.

Playing Saturday morning quarterback, the three defendants, Detectives Gescard F. Isnora, Michael Oliver and Marc Cooper probably should have been tried separately. They had varying degrees of culpability. Of the 50 shots fired by all three, Oliver shot 31 times, including a reload.

Despite whatever threats they thought they faced, the facts are clear. There was no gun in the Bell car and no shots fired by anyone in that car. Any threatening action with the movement of that car was predicated on the fact that Bell and his companions had no idea who the three men were who approached their car. Finally, through all the gunfire, at no time did the officers attempt to determine what the real dangers were. I reiterate, Detective Oliver even stopped to reload.

This morning my feelings are best described as a controlled rage. White people wonder why we have no faith in the criminal justice system. It is because it so seldom protects our interests. We are victimized by crime then victimized again by the system.

I wonder if the sitting junior Senator from New York will have the intestinal fortitude to comment on the outcome of this case?