No Justice, No Piece: Sean Bell and Black Monday

28 Apr

Seth: “I guess you didn’t want to wear black today.” That’s how I found out black folks were supposed to wear black today to represent solidarity in our “protest” against the injustice that is the Sean Bell verdict. I have to admit that even if I’d gotten the memo beforehand, I wouldn’t be garbed in black today any more than I would another day. And it’s not because Sean Bell’s life doesn’t mean anything to me, but rather if we’re going to be true and honest, for injustices committed against our brothers and sisters we need to be wearing black everyday. But then again, I’m not sure injustice was committed against Sean Bell by the verdict in this trial.

That Sean Bell lost his life is regrettable and saddening. We should all feel the same when someone loses their life no matter how “normal” the circumstance. I find it dissapointing that here in Philadelphia where the murder rate was front page news for most of 2007 and although it has improved it still remains an important issue, there isn’t any marching or black garb against the injustice that is black on black crime. That’s normal. All that our brothers and sisters killed in the hood by the hood get are t-shirts memorializing them, stuffed animals at the spot of the murder, and an occasional mural. But that’s another post. This one here is about the justice system and the outrage about what’s happened recently.

To be clear my point is this: I feel that too often, when blacks have bad things happen to them the larger community believes it is because they are black. This may be true in a number of cases, but I don’t believe it to be so here. The judge in this case did not believe Sean Bell’s life was worthless, and gave reasons why the witnesses weren’t believable, and I think they were reasonable. The defendants in this case (the cops) chose not to have a jury trial. They did this knowing that a jury would be swayed by emotion and a bench trial (decided by a judge) would be decided on the facts and the law. And that’s what happened. Let’s look at the actual statute.

Section 35, Subsection 30 of the New York State Penal Law states a cop can use deadly force only to protect himself or others from “what the officer reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of deadly physical force.”

The state Court of Appeals has ruled “a determination of reasonableness must be based on the circumstances facing a defendant,” which include “more than the physical movements of the potential assailant.”

Cooperman will have to weigh “any relevant knowledge the defendant had about that person” as well as “any prior experiences he had which could prove a reasonable basis for a belief … deadly force was necessary.”

In other words, Cooperman must consider the full context, not just whether the cop actually saw somebody with a firearm. The prosecution acknowledged Monday that Detective Michael Oliver was told moments before the shooting “that they might be stopping a man with a gun.”

That’s from the New York Daily News on February 25th, long before the verdict was given. I think it is important to know what the law says to determine if the judge abode by the law. The “reasonableness” factor is one that is tougher to decide, but I feel we have to give deference to the officers. As police, they are targets and unless they have a record of questionable action we should believe that their force was justified. Now there is a difference between justified and excessive, and I think these officers failed that test. I don’t think that raised their misconduct to the criminal level. The problem the judge faced at trial was this:

“At what point during these nine to 12 seconds did my client, Detective Oliver, go from being a trained, experienced police officer who took immediate action to save a life – as you are supposed to do – to becoming a criminal?” the lawyer asked. “At what point did he cross the line?”

Those were the words of one of the defense attoryneys, and they are true. The judge in this case didn’t have an easy job, and a jury surely would have been persuaded by the tears of the fiancee. Would that have been justice, if the cops were found guilty based on something other than the law and facts of the case? The justice system has many flaws, but taken on the whole, I’d rather deal with our justice system, our Constitution and code of laws than take my chances in some other country.

Let’s mourn for all victims of violence and protest their untimely demises. And if you truly believe that to be the system, a black life is worth less than another, ask yourself why should they value us if we continue to kill each other, sometimes over no more than a jacket or pair of sneakers.


4 Responses to “No Justice, No Piece: Sean Bell and Black Monday”

  1. nativenotes April 28, 2008 at 5:31 pm #

    I’m here Seth I’m here. I know you didn’t think I wasn’t going to weigh in. I have a million and one thoughts and I promise to not leave them all here for they are well documented on the brother blog to this blog.

    Now, those excerpts you received from the Daily News while true they do not necessarily paint the whole legal picture of what is acceptable and what is not.

    Do I think this was a black issue; why ofcourse I do. If two black cops killed an unarmed white man; they would have those men’s badges and their lives would be spent behind bars. Why because at that point they would have violated the establishment. Trigger happy cops shooting up white boys; NO WAY!

    The Judge was flawed; he said himself in his own transcript that he allowed the criminal background and demeanor (what the heck does demeanor mean in this context, I digress) of the witnesses sway his decision. This is not only flawed; it is the exact opposite of the information and instructions they give to juries. Someones criminal background is not a testament to their credability in such a case. Do judges look at the criminal background of someone when they ask them to turn state’s evidence and incriminate someone else.

    They asked for a bench trial; not only because of emotion but they knew with the evidence it was the easiest way for them to get off the hook. Please dont be swayed by the idea of justice. I would bet that this judge was hand picked; it has happened before.

    Justifiable; what made him fear for his life. You have your gun drawn, you have not made it clear that you are a police officer. Hell yea I’m pulling off. You see no gun; there is no immediate threat yet you send 50 shots into my vehicle. You are not shooting to injure; you are shooting to kill hmmmm WYF.

    Seth, every case that deals with black and white is not one based out of race. But NY police officer have a habit of brutalizing black men and getting off without any punishment.

    I do agree with you about our neighborhoods but like you said that’s another post.

  2. Seth April 29, 2008 at 6:28 am #

    No easy answers. The whole incident is horrifying and I agree that these officers don’t need to be on the streets anymore after something like this. I hate the idea that the system would have reacted differently is Sean was white, but I can’t say that it wouldn’t have. But I think that with the same circumstances, a guilty verdict would still be wrong. The judge sais testimony was inconsistent, and that’s what he is bound to go by. Certainly the officers knew that a bench trial was their best bet. American “justice” is a unique concept, and that is why the officers are “not guilty” instead of “innocent.”

  3. nativenotes April 29, 2008 at 10:04 am #

    i dig it but he placed their inconsistencies on his own bias of their demeanor and criminal records. that is incorrect. i believe at a minimum they should have been found guilty of reckless endangerment. their actions were reckless no doubt about that.
    then we have to understand what manslaughter is. clearly a murder has occurred and it is by fault of the police officer that someone is dead. now this police officer did not premeditate this murder, that is why the crime has been mitigated to manslaughter.

    For their to be manslaughter, the death must be caused by reckless actions. Ok so they got them there, the cops were reckless for sure, I mean 50 shots WTF.

    SO right there the prosecution provides its case. The defense steps up. They concede that their has been a loss of life right. that 50 shots is excessive. right. but their defense is that this was a justifiable response to the sitution, that they used justifiable force. here is where the defense should have fallen apart.

    The officer said I thought he was reaching for a gun. He never saw a gun, its 4am he pulled a gun on this car and sees a man ducking probably. No shots r fired back Seth. So 50 shots later we have a dead man and two injured men.

    This defense fails. the amount of firepower was not justifiable for the circumstances no matter how u slice it. Back to manslaughter, not a premeditated murder but a reckless death. Case closed, those cops were guilty of criminal behavior; just because you are a cop does not give you the right to be reckless with people’s lives. The same people you are supposed to serve and protect. In fact I would think being a trained police officer you would be more cautious. Peace and Love!

  4. sakredkow May 3, 2008 at 4:25 am #

    I think one of the worst aspects of racism is that it puts people into so much doubt about how they are being treated. I think Blacks aren’t able to take events small or large at face value as much as Whites feel they can. I don’t think you can overestimate how damaging this is to people.
    I don’t know if the police reacted the way they did because Bell was black or not. It may be clearer to people who followed the trial a lot closer than I did, or maybe it isn’t.

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