Monday, April 28, 2008
Chauncey DeVega says: On the Sean Bell Case and Why I Have Nothing to Say
The Sean Bell shooting and trial is a sad situation for all involved. It seems that Brother Sharpton is "going to shut down" NYC (if a bunch of crazies trying to get to their God on 9-11 couldn't shut down my favorite city, I doubt Sharpton will come close). The family is dismayed. Some in the public are confused. Many people of all stripes and hues are supportive of the police and their difficult job. The Feds are going to get involved, etc. etc. etc. My exhaustion and disinterest are already apparent. Frankly, I will only offer a few thoughts on the case. I know some of you will be upset, and please share your thoughts and anger, but I have to be honest.
1. All parties involved are knuckleheads (see People's Exhibit number one to the left--Bell's friend posing with money donated to the survivors following the incident) and this case was a mess to begin with. I was going to give a shit-huffer award for this case, but because a life was taken, I deferred (I do have some taste!). As I have told folks before, I don't much like cops and I don't much like felons. Which leads to points two and three...
2. In my experience most cops were either A) the bully in high school or B) the kid who was picked on. Neither are folks you want to trust with petty power and the responsibility to make life and death decisions. In my opinion, many cops live to play the hero and the cowboy. When they get the chance to act out the fantasy they will do it, however ill-advised:
3. Sean Bell's death is unfortunate and it didn't need to happen. That having been said, he does not need to be valorized or made a hero. Bell is not a martyr and he wasn't assassinated:
As I said in a previous post in regards to those Jena Six fools, black "leadership" needs to be more careful about the causes they choose to fight for, and how they spend political currency. Black pundits should also critically reflect on how they position themselves relative to cases such as these. There are many innocent and honest people of color, and poor folk of all colors, being harassed and abused by the police--let's spend our energy defending their rights. It must be said that Bell's companions (and from what I have read, Bell himself) were felons. Yes, I know it is a "right of passage" for young black men to get arrested and "the system" is unavoidable (insert finger in mouth and induce vomiting). Yes, it shouldn't matter if you are a "good person" or not in terms of how the police make judgments, but this variable can't be ignored. Why? Because in general, criminality speaks to character and to poor decision-making. Which leads to point four...
4. Trust, Bell's friend did brag about having a gun, and he likely made a flippant comment about using it while in the strip club. Brothers, drugs, naked ladies, testosterone, and police don't mix. Moral of the story: we need to have a serious conversation within the black community about gun play and how for some black men (and women--because they are part of this too) black masculinity is inseparably tied to violence. This is life and death business and too many of our young men are getting killed behind this stupidity.
5. This incident speaks to how police are currently trained. Following these incidents I am always surprised by how the public fixates with great surprise on the number of rounds fired by the police. Apparently, the public isn't widely aware that many police are now being trained by former members of the Special Forces and private security companies (mercenaries). You see, there was lots of money and surplus equipment floating around after the Cold War. And with 9-11, additional resources were thrown into militarizing the police (even small town America needs a SWAT team). Like the military, police are conditioned and trained to shoot in concert with one another (the phrase when this runs training runs amok is ironically called "sympathetic shooting"). This training explains why you rarely hear of just one officer firing his or her weapon--if one fires they all instinctively unload on the target until the target is neutralized, they are out of ammo, or they decide to reload.
6. In terms of police training, in my reading of the case there needs to be more emphasis on fire discipline and fire control--police need to be better trained at controlling their impulses and making the actual life and death decision of when to discharge their weapons. When you have a group of police surrounding a vehicle and shooting at all directions you have a high chance of cross-fire (i.e. shooting each other) and of hitting innocent people (bullets did go into the walls and windows of neighboring homes). All around bad stuff.
7. My verdict. The cops should have gotten off because the prosecution didn't prove their case. As this observer points out, Bell's witnesses were neither convincing or sympathetic. The police should be fired because they violated police procedures--like it or not, a car isn't generally considered a deadly weapon in most instances. The public needs to re-examine how our "peace officers" are trained and how they are armed. Also, there need to be independent offices and special prosecutors appointed whose only job is to deal with police misconduct. There has to be accountability. Finally, we, we meaning black folk, black leadership, and our interested allies, need to have a real talk with our young men about manhood, violence, common sense, and the real consequences of poor decision making. As a community, we need to sit down with these baby boys and have a real talk about "guns and butter", personal responsibility, and manhood: