Sean Bell: Will Justice Prevail?

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[The Big Story]

Finally, a grand jury has voted to indict three NYPD officers in the murder of Sean Bell, who was killed during the 50 shot volley unleashed in Queens, New York, last Nov. 25 only hours before he was to have been married.

Prosecutors have not released what charges the officers were indicted on. But, The Black Star News has learned that Michael Oliver, Gescard Isnora and Marc Cooper have been asked to turn themselves in on Monday on manslaughter charges and reckless endangerment –in the case of Cooper.

These are the officers who are responsible for the bulk of the bullets that took the life of Bell, 23, while wounding his friends Trent Benefield, also 23, and Joseph Guzman, 31, a few minutes after they left Bell’s bachelor party at the Kalua Cabaret.
Cooper fired four times. Oliver who emptied and reloaded his gun fired 31 rounds. Isnora fired 11 times, including, the first shot. Shortly after the killing, Assistant Police Chief Michael Collins admitted to the Black Star News that Isnora had been drinking before the shooting, although Chief Collins later attempted to recant. The officers were said to have been engaged in an undercover anti-narcotics and anti-prostitution operation at the Kalua.
The Bell execution represents a historically repetitive pattern of police brutality; often by killer cops who usually pay no price for murdering Black men. Therefore, given the history of cases such as the Patrick Dorismond, Timothy Stansbury, and Amadou Diallo, where justice has been denied the question is: will this indictment bring us any justice?
Again and again Black men are continually victimized by the Gestapo tactics employed by those who behave like mercenaries while patrolling Black communities. Virtually all Black people know someone who has been stopped, harassed, beaten, arrested or killed by cops who devalue Black life because of America’s color coded caste system.
We all have our stories as Black males. I have been either followed or stopped numerous times. By the grace of god I always drove away unharmed. However, one night I was followed twice within a one hour period. Later that night, in an ironic twist, I decided to stop by a grocery store before I retired in for the night. While in the store, I saw the morning papers arrive and the front page story was about the murder of Sean Bell.
The next day I received a call telling me that 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, along with lawyer Neville Mitchell, would be holding a press conference at the scene of the crime. When I arrived the New York press corps was gathering. As I walked from the front doors of the Kalua, toward Bell’s car, trying to visually reenact what happened that fateful November morning around 4:a.m., I realized that something was amiss with the claims the police were leaking.            
The story I read made it seem as if everything happened at close quarters, but Bell’s car was parked a full block and a half away from the Kalua on Liverpool St. Given the rapidity with which the officers—who were in an undercover van—cornered Bell when they fired on him, it is clear that several cops were already on Liverpool before Bell and his friends got there. This makes sense since they had the club under surveillance. So, I kept wondering: if the cops felt, as claimed, that Bell and his friends were going to their car for a gun—which was never found—then why didn’t the cops intercept them before they got to the car?
This question bothered me, especially, when I reached Liverpool St. and thought about the lives now shattered like the glass which littered the street. For, two young men were now scarred and maimed while their friend’s life was lost, leaving his father and mother without a son, making his bride-to-be a widow left to nurture two kids who will never again see their daddy.
Everything I witnessed at the scene told me the police were lying. An eyewitness who wanted to be identified only as “Michael� told The Black Star News that there was never “any exchange of words like ‘police’ or anything� before the undercover cops started blasting away at Bell’s car.
So now after months of waiting we have some indictments. But we should approach these indictments with extreme skepticism given what happened in the Diallo case. Remember, how the trial was moved to lily white Albany, with the blessings of former Mayor Rudy Giuliani—to get a Simi Valley type jury—to evade justice?
Why have they only indicted these three officers? It’s clear that all five officers violated the NYPD Patrol Guide which states that officers are prohibited from firing at a vehicle unless they are returning fire. Moreover, every single officer who fired a shot is culpable in Bell’s death, since we don’t know which bullet was the fatal shot.
Queens District Attorney Richard Brown’s actions in allowing a last second “mystery witness� to testify about a phantom “fourth person� is tellingly indicative of an attempt to sabotage the outcome in favor of these officers. Given that Brown did so, should we really expect him to prosecute this case with any vigor? What other surprises do they have in store for the upcoming trial?
Ultimately, however the real question is: what are we as a community prepared to do to take justice? We should all know by now that justice wouldn’t be handed down. It’s up to us to agitate and wrestle justice from this unjust judicial system. Otherwise, next time the lifeless body marked out in chalk could be mine; or yours.

Benjamin is a member of The Black Star News’ Editorial Board.

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