From Sean Bell to stop-and-frisks
Racist profiling is a U.S. tradition
Published Feb 25, 2010 9:34 PM
History has a way of repeating itself, it is said. This couldn’t be truer
than in the racist differential treatment of Black men and youth by U.S. state
and local police departments. Equal justice under the law has never been part
of the U.S. criminal justice system.
Take the Sean Bell case. On Nov. 25, 2006, Bell, a 23-year-old African
American, was killed by New York Police Department officers in a hail of 50
bullets while sitting unarmed in his car as he was leaving his bachelor party
at a local night club in Queens. He was to be married later that same day.
Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield, in the car with him and also unarmed, were
On April 25, 2008, a state judge acquitted the three police officers of every
charge of manslaughter and reckless endangerment in the shootings. Essentially
the judge ruled Bell’s killing to be justified; no crime committed. This
decision is a measure of how devalued Black life is and how easily Black men
are demonized and disparaged.
Sean Bell’s case proves how deadly race can still be in a politically
illusionary “post-racial” society. In the past wallets, candy bars,
keys and packs of cigarettes were deemed sufficient cause to provoke such
malicious responses. But now, nothing but race-based suspicion is required.
This past Feb. 16, ironically during Black History Month, the U.S. attorney
general stated that the Justice Department investigation determined that there
was insufficient evidence to pursue federal charges against the officers who
killed Bell and wounded his companions.
Specifically, the Justice Department stated: “After a careful and
thorough review, a team of experienced federal prosecutors and FBI agents
determined that the evidence was insufficient to prove, beyond a reasonable
doubt, that the law enforcement personnel who fired at Bell acted willfully.
Accordingly, the investigation into this incident has been closed.”
(Daily Challenge, Feb. 18)
Later that day, the Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network
and representing the Bell family, held a press conference on the Justice
Department’s decision in Washington, D.C. Present were Nicole
Paultre-Bell, Sean’s widow; Trent Benefield; Joseph Guzman; and attorneys
Michael Hardy and Sanford Rubenstein.
Sharpton stated, “We intend to pursue internal NYPD proceedings and the
civil lawsuit to try and bring some justice to Sean Bell’s children and
family, and to Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield, whom I still feel had their
civil rights violated. ... Fifty shots on an unarmed man who engaged in no
crime is intolerable.” (Daily Challenge, Feb. 18)
At a Feb. 20 rally in New York, William Bell, Sean’s father, asked,
“Who are the laws made for? Are they made for us or the police?”
(http://tiny.cc/bILM3) Since receiving the Justice Department’s verdict,
the distraught family says they feel they’re reliving what happened to
Sean Bell all over again.
Bell killing — not an isolated incident
A Feb. 17 report published by the Center for Constitutional Rights reveals new
NYPD data for 2009 showing a significant rise in “stop-and-frisks.”
(www.ccrjustice.org) For that year the reported number of New Yorkers stopped
was more than half a million. The racial disparity in the number of stops had
increased with 87 percent being Black and Latino/a — significantly more
compared to whites.
The CCR is representing victims of stop-and-frisk policies from 2005 to 2008 in
a class action lawsuit filed in 2008. During this period, approximately 80
percent of people stopped were Blacks and Latinos/as, who only made up 25
percent and 28 percent of the general population, respectively. Crime
“suspects” are frequently stopped for vague, undefined reasons such
as “furtive movements,” “casing a victim or location,”
“inappropriate attire for season,” “wearing clothes commonly
used in a crime” and “suspicious bulge.” However, only 1.3
percent of those stopped last year had weapons.
The CCR states that there’s a need for important reforms to the oversight
of the NYPD due to the trend of racial disparities increasing. The CCR
concludes that stop-and-frisks without reasonable suspicion violate the
Fourteenth Amendment and the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
That a travesty of justice occurred in the Sean Bell case is an understatement.
Racist police oppression has been statistically documented. Continued racial
profiling, harassment, beatings, shootings, killings, arrests and imprisonment
of Black men and youth by the police reveal that the more things change, the
more they remain the same.
Everyone should be outraged at the Justice Department’s decision in the
Sean Bell case and recommit to the struggle. We are all Sean Bell!
Articles copyright 1995-2012 Workers World.
Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.
Workers World, 55 W. 17 St., NY, NY 10011
Email: [email protected]
Subscribe [email protected]
Support independent news DONATE