Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Dodging the Sean Bell Bullet

I remember walking down 125th street in Harlem back in April of 2008 when the announcement came down that the 3 cops who shot Sean Bell were acquitted.  Instantly, you could almost feel the emotion sweep through the City like a dark plague.  I saw Blacks and Latinos walking down the street with frustration and tears in their eyes; one elderly Black man walked straight up to a police officer and asked "is a Black man's life still worth nothing?!"  I remember thinking to myself as a brand new lawyer at the time: "Wow.  How in the hell do you beat a case like that? 50 bullets fired.  3 unarmed men shot.  One man dead (on his wedding night to boot).  And not even so much as a manslaughter charge?  Wow."   I got that feeling all over again when it was just recently announced that the same 3 cops who were acquitted back in '08 dodged yet another bullet.  As it turns out, the Department of Justice has decided to drop the Federal Civil Rights charges against them.  Again...wow.

You see, in the legal world, just as in the non-legal world, there are certain things that are simply a given.  Sometimes a situation just "speaks for itself" if you will, and doesn't require too many mental gymnastics in order to arrive at the correct conclusion. For example, if an unarmed man is shot 41 times for pulling out his wallet, chances are there was an excessive use of force; if an unarmed motorist is beaten 56 times with batons after he has laid on the ground, chances are there was an excessive use of force; and likewise if three unarmed men were shot 50 times outside of nightclub as they tried to drive away from 3 unidentified guys with guns, chances are...well you get the point.

The DOJ of the Eastern District of New York (aka Brooklyn & Queens) reviewed the Sean Bell case and decided that there was "insufficient evidence" to bring Civil Rights charges against the officers involved.  If that sounds odd to you then it's probably because it is.  Less egregious evidence was used to charge, and ultimately convict, the officers in the Rodney King case of a Civil Rights violation, but you're telling me you can't connect the dots in a case where a man has lost his life?  Seriously?  With the epidemic of police brutality in the Black community where it is right now you're going to look at this case and tell me the Civil Rights Law doesn't apply here?  (and BTW, the officer's race is not the determining factor, the victim's race is)

Look, I don't know these cops.  They could be good guys.  And I don't pretend to even begin to understand how difficult it is for police officers in New York City.  Especially on 94th Ave in Queens where this incident went down.  However, as professionals, we all have jobs to do and if we mess up in those jobs, there are consequences.  You don't believe me?  Walk into your boss' office right now, reach back and slap him one good time with your left pimp hand, and tell me if you still have a job tomorrow.  Nevertheless, these cops are still working for the NYPD as you read this post.   It doesn't take a Supreme Court Justice to figure out that there's something very wrong with this picture.
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