Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Sean Bell: Revisited

As the trial for Sean Bell’s accused killers begins in Queens, New York we are once again faced with the horror of his death. The sad part about this whole case is that before it is over instead of his killers being on trial, the victim will be placed on trial. Whenever the defense does not have a case the victim is always put on trial. Many people mistakenly believe that black men only have to worry about being killed by white police officers when the truth is far scarier. Because of the culture of law enforcement and the stereotypes presented in the media in this country black men are at risk no matter what the race of the officer. Another sad part about this incident is that it once again highlights the danger for undercover minority cops. There have been a number of incidents where they have been gunned down by their fellow officers who assumed they were perpetrators.

The lawyer said there was talk of guns between the men, and that Mr. Coicou heard one of Mr. Bell’s friends say he had a “gat,” slang for a gun. Such testimony would seem to bolster the detectives’ claims that they heard mention of a gun.

New Rule: I shouldn’t have to state this rule, but unfortunately it has been my experience that many black men make this mistake so here it is, never claim to have a gun when you don’t. I have witnessed firsthand the negative effects of black men making this claim and it ending deadly. I have been at parties and clubs where an altercation will start and one party will claim to have a gun and once they are called on it they don’t have one. Of course this information does not come out until they are shot or killed. I don’t know if it is prevalent with white men, but I know it is common among black men and I have never understood why. I am not saying this to justify the officer’s actions merely to emphasize a growing problem in the black community.

According to the defense attorneys for the officers it is irrelevant the number of shots fired or that they reloaded and fired more shots. This is a common tactic in police shootings that involve a ridiculous number of shots fired into a victim. There is some law enforcement rule that states if the first shot is justified it doesn’t matter if you pump another 100 rounds into the victim after that. The only problem with this theory is that what if the first shots are not justified or the circumstances are murky you remove any chance for a do-over. By unleashing a barrage of firepower the police are insuring the death of the “accused”, that’s right we supposedly live in a country of laws where everyone is presumed innocent. Yet, people are sentenced everyday to death without the benefit of a trial. As history has shown us cops can make mistakes in their assumptions about an individual, mistakes combined with volleys of bullets have proven to be fatal for innocent victims.

I am not sure we will ever know the truth about that night since all parties involved have a vested interest in their accounts and the incident has grown into a media circus. The truth is always the first casualty in an event like this. What was probably a series of mistakes that went horribly bad will now be carved up to illustrate the worst in each participant. Because of our culture of violence and racism we have placed ourselves and our police in very difficult situations, we are asking them to make split-second decisions that will have life and death consequences and when mistakes are made someone must be held accountable.

Was Mr. Bell’s death a result of racism? Yes it was, even though the officers involved were minorities. Police are only human and they are subject to the same stereotypes as the rest of us and maybe more so. Because our society has cast so many young black men into the mode of violent killer even other minorities are frightened by them. How many of us that are black feel less threatened when a group of white teenagers cross our path versus a similar group of black ones? There will be no winners in this no matter how it turns out. Another black man’s life was cut short on the very day of promise for a future and the lives of those officers will never be the same. I don’t think those officers went there that night to kill a black man, but because of how we cast black men (that they are all a threat) the results were predictable.

It is time in this country when we begin to back away from the racist narrative that continues to haunt the black man and makes him a target for not only law enforcement, but anyone with a gun. Until we start casting black men in a more realistic light these types of incidents will continue to happen regardless of the makeup of the police. When all you publicize is the worst about a group then everyone that comes into contact with that group will feel threatened whether it is real or perceived. No one deserves to die like that, but there is enough blame to go around. Instead of just those officers being on trial for this killing, we should be holding many more responsible for this tragedy.

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/26/nyregion/26bell.html?pagewanted=2&_r=1

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Re: "50 Bullets" New Song About Sean Bell Murder

There's a new Myspace page with a song titled "50 Bullets" about the killing of Sean Bell. The artist known as "Yardmon" says that the shooting was "a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. For just like Romeo and Juliet, this young couple and their infant child were victims of society's contentions." While the song's theme is taken from the title, the message of the song is that the world should unite against hate. The artist states that the song is not political, but personal since he has experienced what police brutality is like first hand. The public is invited to visit the Myspace page (myspace.com/yardmon50).
Leon C.

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