Friday, April 25, 2008

Reactions to the Sean Bell Shooting Verdict

I am listening to radio and to the reactions to the verdict in the Sean Bell shooting case.

For those of you who do not keep up on race relations in New York City, Bell was a young man who was shot up by police who thought he, or someone in his car had a gun and that they were shooting at them. Bell was at his bachelor party, and was to be married later that day. He was the father of two children.


There was an extensive investigation by the Queen's NY District Attorney's office and a grand jury heard the case. They decided that 3 of the officers should be indicted. The criminal defense attorneys in the case tried to move the case out of Queen's county. The State opposed the motion successfully. The case was put before the Hon. Arthur Cooperman and the defense decided to go forward to trial without a jury.

The reasons for the non-jury decision was multi-fold. One, the case needed a fact-finder that would hold the People to their burden. It is incumbent on the prosecution to prove the defendant's did not act in self defense. The defense also had a judge they felt was not only fair in his view of the police, but was favorably disposed to the police, the hard job they have and to the testimony they may give. Additionally they were aware that the judge would not have high tolerance for witnesses who had abused the system and who had lied in the past and may not be coming to court with "Clean Hands."

As I said last night, the possibility for a full acquittal was bright. Even I thought however the Judge wouldn't be able to get past the fact that one officer fired 41 shots of the 55 fired. My predictions are here.

My reaction to the verdict is mixed. I honestly believe that if the defendant was black and had shot an undercover out of fear of his attacking him, that the court would have ruled differently. Even if the prosecution had terrible witnesses who they had to give deals to, they would have been believed by the court. I believe that a white defendant would have been found guilty of something.

I guess I believe that race did play a part in the verdict, but less of one than the fact that cops just get treated better than the rest of us do in a courtroom. It isn't right, it just is.

I think that the Mayor struck just the right tone. Someone did lose a son, father and fiance. It is appropriate for the family of Shawn Bell to feel angry at the prosecution and the judge. ADA Testagrossa, who did a great job IMHO with a case that was complicated to say the least, honestly said he was disappointed.

The community feels abandoned. I have to agree with them. The message that this verdict sends is that short of an assassination by the police, black men need to be wary when they see white cops.

OTOH, if the black community wants to be taken seriously they need to continue to clean up their own community. This shooting took place because the area around Club Kahluha was a 24 hour working crime scene. With over 1/2 of the male black community having criminal records the leaders of the Queens NY Black community has got to be that they must help their young men not to be involved with any criminality.

As for more predictions, I think that the US attorney will file a civil rights action against these police officers. There will be a lot of civil rights law suites too. Over the next few days I think you will be seeing a few more posts on these and other related topics.
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