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Justice Seperate and Unequel

A scuffle breaks out after the announcement of the verdict in the Sean Bell case outside of the Queens County Criminal Courts Building Friday, April 25, 2008 in the Queens borough of New York. Three detectives were acquitted of all charges Friday in the 50-shot killing of the unarmed Bell on his wedding day, a case that put the NYPD at the center of another dispute involving allegations of excessive firepower. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

If you weren’t living under a rock this morning you heard about the acquittal of three NYPD officers in the death of Sean Bell. I won’t go into incredible detail about the back story which consists of undercover officers investigating a strip club, a soon-to-be groom celebrating with friends, and depending on who you believe, a terrible melodrama involving a man going for a gun or three guys freaked out when men who didn’t identify themselves as cops came at them with guns.

The real thing I want to say is that unless there are extremely egregious circumstances it is very hard to convict a cop for doing anything. Period. And that’s ultimately the problem. Black people wouldn’t so routinely distrust these sorts of verdicts if they weren’t so common, and we’re just talking about the stuff that actually makes it to the court room, not all the times police ignore people who need help, misunderstand people, give folks attitude or the runaround, who arrest people without cause, who taser 14-year-old girls and treat every black male over the age of 12 like a potential gang banger.

And this goes beyond race. I lived in Bakersfield for five years. Not only did the police get into “questionable” situations with blacks and Mexicans, they did it over and over with white people. Bakersfield was a “law and order” town where the only version of events that mattered were the ones recalled by the officers. It was the honor system all the way. There was no shooting the review board saw as unjustified.

How could anyone expect the victims to agree this was justice when everything is stacked against them? The cops are protected by the police department which works intimately with the prosecuting attorneys to fight crime, the prosecutors are backed up by the District Attorney, the DA is backed up by city and state government who help elect and appoint the judges, so who’s on the victims side in this situation?

If they’re lucky–a half decent attorney and some local activists. And that’s when you’re lucky. And that’s no guarantee of justice.

To pretend like the judicial system is above ass-covering is incredibly naive. It’s like expecting politicians not to steal. Or the government not to go to war under false pretenses. Or expecting multinational corporations to be honest when they say, “We had no idea China was covering those toys in lead. Or that Vioxx could kill you. Honest to God.”

And too many of the public dismiss these incidents because they think it will never happen to them. People who immediately become converts when one of those bad eggs everyone in the system has been complicit in shielding opens up a can of excessive force on you. Like the female bartender pummeled by an off-duty Chicago officer. Or last year in St. Louis’ metro east, a highway patrol officer going 126 miles per hour slammed his cruiser into a couple in a SUV and a car carrying two teenage sisters, massacring the girls. Also injured, he tried to pawn it off on an alleged driver who swerved in front of him.

He reportedly tried to cover his tracks by claiming he had his siren on, but the police cruiser, like a many across the country, was equipped to turn on an internal camera the minute the lights and sirens go up. His was, oddly, off while he was in “pursuit.”

The lie worked for a while, but easily fell apart. He should go to jail, but one can never tell. Sometimes you’re held to a higher standard for having the power of holding lives in your hands. Sometimes you’re given a slight rap on the knuckles and told you’ll lose your job, but little else.

You never know as it’s hard to have faith in the system when it’s the system you’re fighting.

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7 thoughts on “Justice Seperate and Unequel

  1. This injustice is beyond tragic! My heart goes out to Bell’s fiance and his entire family. When are cops ever going to be accountable for being terrorists with badges?and how come one judge decided the verdict instead of a jury? I hope the case goes to the Supreme Court. Imagine if Bell was a white man, massacred with 50 bullets by black cops..they would have gotten the death penalty within 24 hours.This is heart breaking and where is the media??

  2. starrie says:

    i’m curious why this went before a judge and not a jury too…this is so horrible and yet, i’m sadly not at all surprised…i heard the verdict on the news in boston and the media response was embarrassing…the news guy actually asked the reporter if there was any rioting going on after the verdict went down…

  3. mimi and starrie: I don’t know the particulars but I think the defense can opt for a judge only trial and someone has to OK it. I’m not sure if it’s the judge himself or if the prosecutor must not object to it as well.Either way, a judge-only trial benefited them because a jury likely would have not liked the fact that they opened fire, while in plain clothes with only each other backing up that they said they were cops, and no one had a gun would not have set well. A jury would not have let them get away with nothing. The fact that you could make that huge of error is unconscionable. This is not an “acceptable loss” situation. This was a gross failure in judgment followed by overreaction. And why would you trust some dude not dressed as a cop, who is black nonetheless, when he pulls a gun on you? It’s nutters, I say. And the prosecution obviously did a terrible job preparing the witnesses if they contradicted each other on the stand. But this is what happens when you expect “the system” to correct one of their own. They’re all to sympathetic going, “That could have been me!” hence all the leeway and ass covering.

  4. This is all sorts of ridiculous. And a friend directed me to this blog and its definitely amongst my faves.The judge decided the verdict instead of a jury because the officers asked for a judge verdict instead of a jury. I guess it goes that you have the right to trial by your peers, but its your choice.The media is too busy waiting for a riot and reporting that black people have a multiplicity of opinions and aren’t a monolith.

  5. Brooklyn ’86 Queen: Welcome to the blog! Glad you like it. And yes. This Sean Bell situation is messed up AND the press is “riot” trolling. They actually seemed dissapointed that the best they could get was a brief scuffle instead of a “Do The Right Thing”/<A HREF="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crown_Heights_Riot“ REL=”nofollow”>Crown Heights Riot situation.I hate it when the press goes riot trolling. Whenever it involves black people (and sometimes Latinos) the press is hankering for a riot. It’s insulting. Like we’re all illogical, emotional beasts, and they disregarded the whole reason WHY black people are so distrustful of the justice system, that this wouldn’t hit so hard if it weren’t so common.But no one wants to point out that, that whenever there is one of these sensational police excessive use of force/abuse/intimidation situations black people are ROUTINELY on the losing end. I’m trying to think of a case where the black person go justice, particularly in New York or Los Angeles where these incidents get some national coverage.I don’t expect the CNN to care when it’s black people in Bakersfield or St. Louis. We can just go some place and fucking die as far as CNN is concerned. We’re a damn media dead zone.

  6. I recan this from reading Mark Twain’s Huck Finnin chapter, thirty-two of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn there is a boating accident. Huck’s Aunt Sally asks if anyone was hurt. Huck then replied, “No’m. Killed a nigger” (Twain, 213). Aunt Sally then said, “Well, its lucky; because sometimes people do get hurt”(Twain, 213).

  7. Some people are claiming “Injustice” when they are really just communicating their dissatisfaction with the ruling.I agree that “Justice” is a process.Traditionally “Injustice” in the court system is shown via prosecutorial misconduct, jury tampering, withholding of evidence, witness intimidation or other actions that are later used as grounds for an appeal. None of that is being claimed here. The loudest cry from the protesters, however, has been regarding their disagreement with the ruling. This case was not about “Justice for Sean Bell” it was about “justly trying the 3 defendants who were indicted”, to see if they were guilty as charged. (my own personal comments can be found on my blog – I am not focused on my own thoughts, however, but the law and Due Process with this posting).The same vengeance and framing that should be repudiated if and when a Black criminal who is put on trial by the system should also be tempered in this case. “Justice” is not expressed in a ruling – it is expressed in the entirety of the process and the checks and balances that are presented to suppress justice. I will also add a “Jeremiah Wright” type comment while the passions are running high: Please note that these cops were operating in the context of GUN ERADICATION in a community that had its share of gun violence. We are focusing on the specifics of an incident that proved deadly rather than the broader context which brought this increased police surveillance of this community into action.Summary of Events[quote]It was around 4 a.m., Nov. 25, 2006, Sean Bell and his friends were leaving a strip club in Queens, NY. The club was under investigation and undercover cops were looking into complaints of drugs, guns and prostitution.As Bell and his boys left, an argument broke out and undercover detectives followed Bell and his friends, assuming one of them had a gun.Bell and his friends, Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield got into the car, Bell in the driver’s seat. Witnesses say armed undercovers approached the car, and they never heard them identify themselves as cops.Bell, in a panic to get away from the armed men, began to drive off. Reports say his vehicle rammed an undercover officer and hit an unmarked NYPD minivan. The detectives thought he was trying to run them down and started firing-50 shots. One officer fired 31 shots, Bell died in a hail of gunfire, the other two passengers were shot but survived.[/quote]

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