Tensions Rise Over Bell Verdict

Published April 28, 2008

Posted April 28, 2008 – As the pain and anger of Friday’s acquittal pulsed through the nation this weekend, Black leaders restated their vow to take the fight for justice to a whole ’nother level.

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On Sunday, the Rev. Al Sharpton, who came to national prominence battling police brutality, announced that the head of the House Judiciary Committee would be in New York City today to see the spot where three NYPD detectives shot 50 bullets at an unarmed Sean Bell, killing him on the eve of his wedding. A day earlier, Sharpton threatened to shut the city down with peaceful protest aimed at sending a message about the unfairness of the decision by N.Y. Supreme Court Justice Arthur Cooperman to acquit Detectives Gescard Isnora, Michael Oliver and Marc Cooper for their part in killing Bell, 23, and wounding his two friends, Trent Benefield, 23, and Joseph Guzman, 31.

"We strategically know how to stop the city so people stand still and realize that you do not have the right to shoot down unarmed, innocent civilians," Sharpton said at a Saturday rally in Harlem, where hundreds of protestors gathered at his National Action Network office in Harlem. "This city is going to deal with the blood of Sean Bell."

Murdered All Over Again

Among those joining Sharpton in the cry for the Justice Department to retry the officers on civil rights charges are William Bell, Sean Bell's father; Bell ’s fiancée, Nicole Paultre Bell; and Marc Morial, chairman of the Black Leadership Forum board and president and CEO of the National Urban League.

A tearful, disappointed Paultre Bell – who legally acquired her fiancé’s name after his death – blamed Cooperman for another murder, of sorts. "The justice system let me down," Paultre Bell told the crowd. "April 25, 2008: They killed Sean all over again. That's what it felt like to us."

Said Sharpton, as he urged protestors to help him plan a massive action to bring New York to a halt: "They never accused Sean Bell of doing anything. Then why is he dead? "They have shown now that they will not hold police accountable. Well, guess what? If you won't, we will!"

The crowd, worked up by Sharpton’s fierce tone, responded by chanting, "Shut it down! Shut it down!"


The Rev. Hubert King, a minister from Fuquay Varina , N.C. , told BET.com that he was stunned by the verdict. “What happens to you in America when you kill a dog?” he asked referring to the case of NFL star Michael Vick. “You go to prison. But what happens if you kill a Black man? Absolutely nothing!”

Go to the next page to see how BET.com users responded to the verdict.

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Anger from BET.com Users

King’s comments were reflective of the users who lit up the BET.com message boards.

When lad_devon heard the news on her way from work, she said her heart could hardly take it. “I am so sad. I cried so bad, and I woke up this morning still crying,” she wrote. “We need to desperately come together and do something about this. This hurts me so bad. …This is crazy. How can someone shoot someone that many times and be acquitted? …My heart goes out to that family.”

“Speechless” is how aaliyah_lord described her response. “This situation sickens me,” she wrote. “I cannot believe the outcome of this case. I just knew justice would be served. I don't know what to say. I'm so mad, upset, sad and angry. This type of crime is happening everywhere including where I live here in Atlanta . This has got to stop. Something’s got to give, but I realize that no matter how mad or angry I get, it won't bring Sean back to his family. I can't even imagine the pain and betrayal that they feel.”

A Tragic Pattern of Injustice

NAACP officials, who are demanding that the U.S. Department of Justice‘s Civil Rights Division follow through on its reported monitoring of the case and launch a thorough investigation, said they are planning a day of mourning and other “reconciliation activities” to help the community heal. “For us, this case raises the overwhelming concern that New York City Police are often out of control,” said New York State Conference NAACP President Hazel N. Dukes. “Where was the threat to the police? There was no need for so many shots to have been fired under the circumstances. The police need to protect and respect our community. The legal system is not living up to justice and fair play. To acquit on all charges is inconceivable and unacceptable. This verdict does not sit well with the NAACP.”

For many of those who congregated in Harlem and waved signs, such as “JUSTICE FOR BELL, GUZMAN AND BENEFIELD!” and “JAIL RACIST KILLER COPS!” and yelled comments like, “Kill the cops!” and “Fifty shots equal murder!” and “KKK cops!,” Cooperman’s ruling was all too familiar.

Some recalled similar shocking verdicts in New York and other U.S. cities. For example, in February 2000, a jury acquitted New York City officers Edward McMellon, Sean Carroll, Kenneth Boss and Richard Murphy, who shot to death unarmed Guinean immigrant Amadou Diallo in a barrage of 41 bullets as he stood in the doorway of his Bronx home. He had just gotten home from dinner, but the officers thought he matched the description of a rapist and said they thought he was going for a gun. There had been no weapon; Diallo died clutching his wallet. The trial was moved out of the Bronx to lily-White Albany , where it took the jury about two hours to exonerate the officers of any wrongdoing. The Justice Department refused to look into whether Diallo’s civil rights had been violated.

A year later, judge in Cincinnati allowed Officer Stephen Roach to get off scot-free for killing an unarmed 19-year-old Timothy Thomas, as he fled a traffic violation, which included not wearing a seat belt. Following the seven-day trial, Hamilton County Municipal Judge Ralph Winker concluded that Roach’s shooting was reasonable, given that it was a “split-second reaction to a very dangerous situation created by Timothy Thomas.” In 2003, Cincinnati Police were caught on videotape beating to death Nathaniel Jones, a 350-pound Black man, with metal batons.  The six Cincinnati police officers – Guy Abrams, James Pike, Joehonny Reese, Jay Johnstone, Baron Osterman and Thomas Slade – were exonerated. But Thomas and Jones represented just a smidgen of the 20 Black men snuffed out by Cincinnati Police between 1995 and 2003, without a single cop conviction.

“It is high time for all people to wake up and demand an end to senseless violence by police officers against African Americans,” said NAACP Interim General Counsel Angela Ciccolo. “[The Bell shooting] is the latest glaring example of court decisions that appear to endorse legally sanctioned violence against African Americans.”

Do you think the Justice Department will intervene in this case? Click "Discuss Now," on the upper right, to post your comment.

Written by BET-Staff

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