Out in the Streets, They Call It Murder

I had already left my home on Friday, by the time the Sean Bell verdict dropped. So I took the weekend to absorb the shock, and to try to understand how this verdict could possibly be handed down. I’m still at a loss.

My immediate emotional response to the news that the three accused officers were acquitted in the Sean Bell shooting case was outrage, anger, and that sickening feeling you get when justice has been perverted. My second response was jaded disgust. Surprise didn’t even occur to me — sadly, I would have been truly, happily surprised if the officers who fired 50 shots at an unarmed man were actually sentenced for their violent crime. But this sentence was just more of the same ol, same ol — same as Amadou Diallo, same as Ousmane Zongo, Johnny Gammage in Pittsburgh, and even Jean Charles de Meneze in London. When police officers gun down unarmed victims, it seems that the course of justice doesn’t run smooth and straight by any means.

Would a trial by jury have resulted in a different outcome for the Bell family? Perhaps — a jury of Sean Bell’s peers would probably be more than familiar with the NYPD’s reputation of racial profiling. But the defendants opted for a judge, rather than a jury. And lo and behold, that judge found reasons to question the witnesses’ accounts — “He said some prosecution witnesses contradicted themselves, and he cited prior convictions and incarcerations of witnesses,” that Concrete Loop article reveals. (note — the gif image at the top of this post also came from Concrete Loop).

They say that Detective Michael Oliver wept at the defense table. I wonder if those were guilty tears — after all, he did fire his weapon 31 times at the unarmed husband-to-be — or if they were simply tears of relief that he wasn’t going to be sent to jail for his actions.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg offered a statement afterwards — “”An innocent man lost his life, a bride lost her groom, two daughters lost their father, and a mother and a father lost their son. No verdict could ever end the grief that those who knew and loved Sean Bell suffer… America is a nation of laws, and though not everyone will agree with the verdicts and opinions issued by the courts, we accept their authority.”

My heart goes out to Nicole Paultre Bell and the rest of the Bell family. I can’t even imagine their pain, the emptiness they might feel inside. Rest in peace, Sean. 23 is too young to die under any circumstances, and these are especially heinous and tragic. I hope that somewhere down the line real justice is served, at the inevitable trials and civil suits to come. And there better be recompense somewhere – especially since someone working at the police union in Manhattan thought the verdict was FUNNY enough to make a PRANK PHONE CALL to Nicole Bell. (hat tip to Love is Dope for letting me know about THAT fresh outrage).

How do you bellas and fellas living in New York feel about this verdict, now that the weekend has passed? Do you still feel simmering anger in the pit of your stomach, or is it more like grim acceptance?

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Comments

  1. BluTopaz says:

    I live in Brooklyn and work in Manhattan. The first I heard of the verdict was I noticed a crowd of co-workers, standing around one of the televisions in our office. A mixed group; different races and the overall tone was pure disbelief. For 3 days now this is the first thing I think of when I wake up. I truly feel the justice system is saying when it comes to Black people it’s ok to kill first, don’t ask questions later. The fact that Police Commissioner Kelly said himself that NYPD regulations prohibit shooting at a car, even if it’s being perceived as a weapon had no bearing on this case at all, appartently. They re-loaded their guns, and HANDCUFFED the man after they murdered him. I’m sitting here watching a slideshow of photos taken of Nicole and the families after the verdict. The images of her standing at Sean’s gravesite, and of her breaking down in tears after the verdict are haunting.

    And like you, Bella I’d wondered about the reason for that cop’s tears. One of them had the nerve to say “sorry to the Bell” family. I hope the 2 Black cops in particular think about what they’ve done the next time they’re not in uniform and they’re profiled by the police.

    Thank you Bella for sharing a space with me to vent my bitterness this morning.

  2. The verdict ruined what had started out a pleasant Friday. I can not begin to try to imagine what his fiancee is feeling, losing him on the eve of their wedding. His death was a knife in the heart, the verdict was a twisting of the knife, and the prank call is now the knife being further dug in. They need to find out who made the call, and severely discipline them. It’s amazing how bold the police department is in NYC. They were bold enough to crank call her knowing most people have caller id enable phones. You know they are guilty, b/c if they weren’t guilty, they would not have made the crank call. Nicole should change her phone # asap. The civil trail may render a monetary settlement, but it won’t bring Nicole’s fiancee back & it won’t take away the awful precedent that this awful verdict has set.

  3. I wonder if two of the three cops were not black if there would have been a stronger reaction from the community to this “verdict”.

  4. It is unfortunate, but events like this are some of the reasons why the United States has such a bad international reputation. My husband is a university professor, but because we are a mixed race couple (I am black, he is white), I have resisted applying for jobs in many parts of the United States. I am afraid for myself and for any children we might have that being black is reason enough to die. I know not all Americans are racist, and not everyone carries a gun, but why does it seem that all the racists carry guns? Why does it seem that people with that bent in their personalities always seem attracted to positions in law enforcement? Why isn’t the personality screening better for law enforcement officers? Why are we still having this conversation in 2008? Sometimes it’s too sad to contemplate. I just pray for peace, healing and reconcilliation for all my brothers and sisters south of the border…

  5. I live in the Bronx and when I first heard of the verdict on Friday it really saddened me. Although, once I’d heard that they were not having a jury, it really gave me a bad feeling- but I still tried to be hopeful. I have a lot of admiration for Nicole Bell and her strength. She is a strong woman… We never know what God has in store for us, as I’m sure she never in a million years expected anything like this to happen to her and her family.

  6. Yeah, it’s sort of like grim acceptance. So much of this goes on. It’s like, what can we do? Most of our time is spent doing things we need to do for ourselves to make it on a day to day basis. I know we should do something effective, because, if we don’t do something, we will just continue to loose ground and leverage until we are ALL forced to deal with it. Then, damn, it’s too late… It’s a formidable cancer that will be the detriment of us. So, then its back to the original question, what can we do?

  7. I am from NY and feel the outrage even though I am not there anymore. I have lived through two children getting mauled down by Jewish kids and their having no remorse while the same police protects their kind and not us. I have lived through the Abner Louima situation where a man was victimized by police for no reason and can no longer have his body function normally ever again. I have lived through the Amadou Diallo situation where a man was gunned down for pulling out his wallet to identify himself and the police did not identify themselves! I have seen an elderly woman in Atlanta get gunned down by drug detectives who claimed from an informant that her house was being used for selling drugs. They claimed she had a gun and sprayed the house at least 80 times. (Give or take 20).

    Justice, there is none for us. There will be justice when we get a hold of our children and let them know that the world outside the walls of their home is not for them. That when they step outside of these walls you may never come back because someone may not like the color of your shoes, the car your mommy and daddy drive or just because you are who you are, black in america. I know the city will not take this sitting down. Retribution may not come in our time but it will be handed down for our future generations as long as we keep the eyes of our children informed on what the real deal is.

  8. I feel like people, black people, don’t take an incedent involving cops and black people on a case by case basis. Yes, Sen Bell was a man who was going to be married and has kids. Yes, he did not deserve to die. No, cops should not have shot as many times as they did. Still, is there no seeing this at all from a cop’s perspective? Are cops robots who should know that a group of men mean them no harm and stand down?

    I think this is one of the worst errors officers of the law could ever make, but to simplify it to “the cops love to shoot black people” just doesn’t cut it for me. Those cops were scoping out an area that was known for shady activity, so they thought something was up. They overreacted and unfortunately a man is now dead. Still, couldn’t these guys have found a safer place to hold their bachelor party? I think an overwhelming majority of the blame lies in the cops hands, but this didn’t sound like the nicest place for a family man, a man about to get married, to be.

  9. warrior11209 says:

    Although I now live in NJ ,I am originally from Brooklyn, NY . I was at work when the verdict was read and 100% of my co-workers (mixed group) felt that justice was not rendered! The sad part , just as another blogger mentioned I was saddened but not surprised. Our lives mean nothing to the police ( and I come from a family of 3 undercover NYPD detectives) – I am so scared for the lives of young Black men- I have a teenage son and I fear for what can happen during an innocent night out with friends.
    The “person”(and I am using that term very lightly), who called Nicole Bell and laughed – may they burn in heck( I know you do not like cursing on the blog ‘Bella).
    This verdict has eaten away at me all weekend long! There are various acts of civil disobedience(sp?) scheduled in NYC for this upcoming week and I will participate.

  10. I heard of the verdict on NPR on Friday and just as I was incapable of wishing away my excruciating headache that left me immobile for half of the day I couldn’t stop the flow of hot tears against my face, following the news report. Bella I think one of your country men called it right when he sang “there is no truth in justice, no justice in the law.” I do not live in NY. However, I think this is a sad but real reminder of how the criminal justice system sees African-American men…”forever the symbolic assailant” as one of the authors I read this past semester suggests. I remember seething as I read that someone’s response to Sharpton’s comment on justice being aborted was simply “America has the greatest criminal justice system in the world”. Amijane I think part of the solution begins with a willingness to accept that there are deficiencies in the system. I think this mentality/attitude/belief that everything American is superior and infallible is so pervasive it prevents any critical analysis of the systems that continue to undervalue and oppress a particular HUMAN demographic in this country, and it is especially glaring in the justice system!

  11. NaturalWheezes says:

    I live in Northern NJ and I was saddened by the verdict. When they were acquitted on ALL CHARGES, even reckless endangerment, I was disgusted. However, I wasn’t completely surprised. Like others have said, once it came out that the trial was going before a judge, most of my hope evaporated. This is an utter joke. I didn’t bring it up at work becuase I’m the only black person in my department and my supervisor went to school with Det. Oliver. But another co-worker came over to talk about it and she immediately launched into “but you can’t know what really happened, and cops don’t have time to sit back and judge a situation like that, it’s split-second, blah blah blah. Her brother is also a corrections officer. I just said “but not even reckless endangerment? When they found bullets in the train station and peoples homes??” She changed her tune when she found out that Oliver and the other one who’d fired 11 shots were also charged with RE (hello, read the articles, please), and said that shouldn’t have happened. Whatever. I do have to say for the other people in my department, they disagreed with my supervisor. One girl has relatives in the force up and down the East Coast, and every single one of them agreed that RELOADING and continuing firing sounded very unnecessary.

    And I think those tears from Det. Oliver were tears of relief. He didn’t want to go to prison for any length of time, considering he’s a cop and what he did.

  12. I’m a life long Bronx resident.After Amadou Diallo,I’m not surprised that the officers walked. There seems to be an unspoken rule that it’s okay to shoot to kill in blaze of excessive bullets any black person or I should any person of color. The law upholds this time and time again.
    I do believe in divine justice. So I feel the officers will eventually be punished for their actions by a higher authority that sees all.

  13. Trinichica says:

    I am deeply saddened at this injustice. I was hoping and praying that maybe, just once, that the right thing would be done but no, here we go again!!

  14. Thanks for the shout, lady. Personally, I’m still deeply saddened by the whole situation. The callousness of the act is really beyond comprehension and the verdict just kinda drains what little faith some of us had in the justice system. That picture you have here of Nicole with her wedding dress is just too much for me. I can’t even begin to imagine the depth of her pain.

  15. It is unfortunate that these type of losses keep occurring. I believe there is a lack of reasoning and lack of judgement in these situations which are only magnified by verdicts that leave us at a loss of words. Though we only know what the media has portrayed, and only those involved know how it truly went down, it is hard not to be in disbelief about this matter. Our legal system is made up of cut and dry laws and it seems to dismiss the overall problem we have with those asked to serve and protect us and black men in our society. There is an inherent fear of the black man and it causes assumptions to overcome logic. When will things change?

  16. Hey Bella.

    I’m a born and raised Harlemite. And I have such an array of mixed emotions when it comes to the verdict of the Sean Bell murder. Anger, resentment, ancestral memory and pain, anger at our own community, fatherlessness, and the cumulative pain of “what have I done to be so black and blue?”

    Over the weekend I witnessed protesters section off 125th Street to voice their distress over the verdict. As I looked among the angry and frustrated faces I couldn’t help but feel as if their efforts were in vain. You can’t fight anger with anger. You can only fight anger with love and compassion.

    Individually I have come against many odds of my poverty ridden childhood to earn a Master’s Degree and create an online business doing what I love. I been to West Africa and Europe; I have a loving and supportive black husband who’s a teacher…. and I have been incredibly blessed with the foresight to live authentically. I wont’ be the first or the last to rise above the cards that were dealt to me. I am an individual success. But when I think about how the rest of my brothers and sisters are doing, and the dire circumstances of our community I get melancholy because I realize that this country is about individual success and not collective. No one cares that our drop out rates are staggering. No one cares that our men and woman are being incarcerated at a level that is comparable to being on a chain gang. No one cares that black women are dying of AIDs. No one cares that sistas are grossly overweight because of all the stress that comes with the carrying the families needs on our backs. NO ONE CARES.

    Sean Bell could’ve been my husband. And that’s why this verdict hurts so bad. Cause when the culture of power sees a black man they see an animal. Not a brother, uncle, nephew, father, cousin, head of household, lover or family man.
    Cause as long as they destroy him; they destroy the black family. Which is why so many black women are angry and resentful cause they are doing all on their own.

    The officers may have gotten off through the system that works tirelessly to keep the status quo in place. But they will have to repay a karmic debt because their hands were responsible for taking a life.

  17. Brooklyn here and I’m not surprised by the verdict. I knew it was going to go this way. There is a pattern in NYC when it pertains to black and latino men. Their lives don’t matter as much.

    I hate to see people question where Sean Bell had his bachelor party. Yes it was in a seedy part of town, but so what. The police are sworn to protect and serve ALL, not just those is nice neighborhoods.

    Reading the trial roundup everyday I have so many thoughts. It was noted that the cops had tried to buy drugs and proposition the dancers for sex on numerous times and had come up empty. Why didn’t they have to take a breathalizer? (Undercover NYC cops are allowed 2 beers while undercover) A bullet was fired way up into the AIR TRAIn to JFK and sheared the elbow of a Port Authority cop standing on the platform. These cops were reckless at a minimum!!!

    How come when it comes to black men there is always this need to criminalize the victim? It doesn’t matter about prior convictions, where you live, party, or choose to hang out. Also, with many police departments there is a presumption of guilt where black and latino men are concerned. Police officers assume these men are up to no good when, in fact, they may not be.

    Finally, I saw those black cops apoligizing on NY1 after the trial. Those were tears of guilt AND relief. Those cops know that if they didn’t wear that blue uniform and carry a badge they’d have a target on their backs just like Sean did.

  18. Jaded disgust….that sums it up perfectly Bella. I wrote a post about this Friday, but I couldn’t seem to find the words so I let music do it for me. A little “Mercy Mercy Me,” “What’s Going On,” and “Inner City Blues(Makes Me Wanna Holler).

    A lot of people here have echoed my sentiments. Grim acceptance also perfectly sums it up. Like that’s just the way it is in Amerryca. I just can’t get over Wesley going down for 3 years and evenMichael Vick, who I have criticized harshly, going away for a year for killing dogs. These animals get NOTHING for murdering an unarmed human being. You don’t mess with the man’s money or his pooch. That’s the lesson here.

    Is this the country that is really going to put a Black man in the White House? I’m trying to hold on and believe Bella but this kind of crap makes it HARD.

  19. Hi Bella,
    I have nothing new to add to your previous commenter’s statements. I am not surprised by the verdict, but I was hoping for something different to happen…

  20. Grim acceptance. When I read the verdict, I was not surprised in the least. Bella, I’m also from the Caribbean and stuff likes this makes me seriously question raising future kids in a country that sees them as criminals and targets. America is a great country for people who look a certain way, but for others? Not so much…

  21. I refuse to look at this tradgedy any different than the daily inner-city tradgedies called “Black on Black” crime….If we can come together against the Police, Goverment..etc, then we need to do the same against these black thugs who prey on black people!

  22. I remember being like 10 years old when I first saw news of police brutality on television. The victim’s name was Anthony Baez. He was asthmatic and the cop’s (illegal!) choke hold caused his death. I remember his mother crying out to Giuliani for justice that was not delivered. She understandably lost control at a City Hall hearing or something to that effect and Giuliani asked that she remain calm and be escorted out of the room.

    I was in high school when Diallo was shot. I remember feeling sick to my stomach and everyone around me commenting on how “messed up” it all was.

    I have many more memories. And not one is of the cops getting what they deserved.

  23. Sean Bell’s case is so sad. For goodness sake, i wish these cops would be men and just admit that they killed the guy unfairly. Seeing her stare at that dress is so depressing.
    hairsmystory.com

  24. When I heard about the verdict, I was deeply saddened but not surprised. As a lifelong resident of Queens NY, the names of Sean Bell, Eleanor Bumpers, Ousemane Zongo, Michael Stewart, Anthony Baez, and Amadou Diallo will never be forgotten. My father is Black man is this city, my cousins are Black men in the city, I love a Black man that lives in this city, and one day I hope to raise a Black man in this city. I see Nicole Paultre Bell’s pain and I can’t help but think, there but for the grace of God go I.

    Since when is feeling threatened adequate justification for shooting unarmed men. Police officers are given much authority and in turn should be held to a higher standard of competence.

    I overheard several white co-workers (I work at a law firm) saying the prosecution put up a horrible case. The prosecution pretty much put on the defense’s case for them. They also think because 2 of the officers were of color this is not a race issue. It is very much a race issue. Why is it always people of color that are being gunned down my the police? It is racial profiling at its most destructive. And officers of color are not immune to that any more than their white counterparts.

  25. It’s time to get angry black people! I know you can’t fight fire with fire but that’s the way I feel. I was disgusted with the verdict and that just further let’s me know how the police feel about black people like my life is not worth a damn!!! My life, your life, everbody life is worth something but in the eyes of the law your worth more dead than alive and that bothers me. If you got the complexion for the protection then you’ll live to see another day, if your black shoot now ask questions later. That s—- doesn’t sit well with me!!

  26. We need to learn the laws, waiting and hoping for white people to treat us better is never going to happen, Sean Bell was treated as a second class citizen http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second-class_citizen

  27. While i would like to say that the verdict shocked me it did not,i live in the Bronx and have noticed on many occassions where my younger brothers and cousins have been stopped by police because they looked like someone who fit the description. Being a young black boy or man in this country already makes you a suspect and too many of these crooked cops are getting away with their racist profiling and unjustified brutality and then they wonder why no one talks to the police

  28. emmy kay says:

    I reside in Brooklyn, grew up in Jamaica queens, work and school in manhattan. I am outraged as the next woman! Having a conversation about this with a security guard at my job, who happens to be a cop, I asked him when was the last time that he had heard of an unarmed white male being gunned down by the police. He with his years of police experience in NYC could not come up with one instance. This is NYC bella. As fab as it seems from a skyline shot on a postcard, it is expensive, and slowly becoming a gentrified, and steril police state for working class people of color. I don’t love having my purse searched by the police, when i am tired from work, ready to ride the subway. Which by the way a monthly metrocard’s price went up from $76 to $80 a month! There is no more Harlem. It is now SOHA! Though it should backfire , because there is just not that much wealth going around to keep the facade. that is a whole other post. But yeah, this is NYC and these are our police, and our justice system. A system that will not protect you if you are young and black. An undesireable in a changing FAB NY.

  29. I live in NYC and like most people that have posted their comment here on your site, I too, was not surprised at the “verdict”. Unfortuantely, this is the reality that exist not Just in NYC, but in America. Mos Def said it best on Bill Maher’s show on HBO (I forgot the name) when speaking about terrorism in America. The real people out trying to kill Americans are called NYPD not neccessarily Iraqi Jihadist or Muslim extremist! It is so sad that we as a people dont trust and believe in the system/ cops that are here to serve and protect us against crime and wrong doings. As result, we become more inclined to take matters into our own hands.

    Also, i have a hard time understanding how trained “professionals” (i.e. police) need 50 shots (in some cases more) to kill or even injure a group of unarmed men. The thugs on the streets who tote around guns, have never been formally trained to use guns, yet, would never require 50 bullets. They dont even reload their guns when shotting, yet they alwasy seem to get their targets without any problems. What does that say about the competence of our police dept.? Hmmmmm…

  30. Let me start off by saying that I do feel bad for the family of the victim. Also let me state that I am on the fence on this one. As a wife of an officer in California, I want my husband to be safe. Are the officers quilty of firing their weapon too much? Hell yes!!!! but at the same time, when you are coming upon someone who reaches into their pocket and you legitamly fear for your life, you shoot. But these officers are quilty of firing their weapon in excess. I am not dumb, I know that their are dirty cops out there, but they give everyone else a bad name. Lets not make this a racial thing, because this happens all over the states with black cops, white victims, white cops with black and white victims. Lets just try to keep the peace and hope that the law enforcement everywhere learns from this and new procedures are brought on by this very sad event. I pray for the families of the victims, along with the families of these officers.

  31. Girl, there is so much to say here, but most importantly, thanks for your blog. I’m originally from Brooklyn & Trinidad but have now made my home in Copenhagen, Denmark for about 9 years now. I have lived in Trinidad, Brooklyn, Hawaii and now here. I have read tons of books, and been in many different cultural settings and experienced many different things. My verdict: The world (generally) does not care about Black people. We can not expect justice from a system that criminalize our very existence (has done so from the very beginning)– however, we are not alone. There are many people the world over, who live, as we do: as foreigners and second class citizens in their own countries. The question, the very important question is: what next? How can we use this experience to ensure that the next person gunned down by the police is not you, me or god forbid, our children? My thoughts are with the Bell family, and the many, many, families, the world over who lose their lives, or have lost a loved one, at the hands of others who clearly, do not value LIFE.
    All the best,
    the lab

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