THE NATIONAL BLACK POLICE ASSOCIATION:
THE SEAN BELL VERDICT EMBOLDENS LACK OF CONFIDENCE IN JUDGES
© April 26, 2008. All rights reserved to NBPA
By Christopher C. Cooper
Saint Xavier University
The acquittals of the three New York City Policeman who killed unarmed Sean Bell further damages the psyche and perception of the justice system by people of color. There was blatant disregard by Judge Cooperman, the Bell trial’s presiding judge, of the compelling evidence of recklessness. His verdict represents the highest level of judicial abuse. Sadly, his verdict is consistent with outrageous, decision-making by judges throughout America when people-of-color are victims. On the Civil side, it is the power of judges to prevent people of-color, victimized by the police, from ever getting their civil lawsuits against police before a jury. Judges nix a jury by routinely dismissing cases via what is called Summary Judgment. It is a judge deciding that allegations of a black man or woman are not credible enough to go to a jury.
On the criminal side, police officers can opt out of having a jury, they choose a judge instead. These bench trials as they are called, have long represented the way in which police officers who have killed and maimed without legal justification have avoided criminal convictions and prison. The shooting death of an elderly, wheel chair bound grandmother, Eleanor Bumpers, by a New York City Policeman and the officer’s acquittal before a New York judge is among the most shocking examples of judicial abuse. The verdict in the Bell case joins a litany of cases from all over the United States that shows one set of judicial decision making for whites and another for people-of –color. One only consider the past and ongoing abuse by the many members of the judiciary in Chicago by their not addressing torture of black men by the infamous Chicago Police Officer John Burge and his criminal gang.
It does not matter that two of the officers who killed Sean Bell are black. The larger issue is that police officers of any color, in jurisdictions throughout the United States are given a blank check to abuse people of color. Prosecutors routinely look the other way and if they prosecute, they throw the fight (a real possibility of what happened in the Bell case). Most judges shirk their duty to be fair and impartial, especially when they dismiss cases by people of color against the police via Summary Judgment; having, inappropriately used their (judges) personal perceptions to decide that there is not an issue of genuine, material fact.
The National Black Police Association (NBPA), compromised of police officers, has every right to Monday morning quarterback any police situation. It is the knowledge of police practices of the association’s members that enables The National Black Police Association to speak credibly and directly about the verdict in the Bell case. Any seasoned big city police officer is able to see the recklessness of the officers who killed Bell. We (members of the NBPA) know that the firing of more than fifty bullets on a crowded New York City Street at Sean Bell endangered bystanders and a whole host of people who live in the densely populated section of Jamaica, Queens.
Big City cops (many of whom are NBPA members) need to know a whole lot about fire discipline. This is a phenomenon of knowing your target and sight alignment of target to the weapon. As important, when justified to shoot, our sound judgment enables us to dispense with shooting our guns because to do so would be Recklessness (a crime) because of a large volume of people and structures. Unfortunately, the New York City Police Department, like most of the country’s big city police departments is plagued by ranks of men lacking in adequate weapon’s use training. Training that they could have obtained in the military. The end result, Big City Police Departments are depositories for men whose cowardice causes them to avoid military service and in the place of military service they become paid bullies in many of the nation’s police departments. No wonder we see these men inappropriately wearing dark sunglasses and dressed like a commando in front of our local church or cruising our neighborhoods. Problematic is that America’s black neighborhoods to many young men in police ranks are places of adventure for playing out their action fantasies. One would think that pre-employment psychological examinations would weed out the battery of cowardly men who flock to police departments seeking employment.
The lack of knowledge of police work by Judge Cooperman coupled with prosecutors who knew nothing about police work enabled the acquittal verdict of the officers who killed Sean Bell.
There cannot be a successful prosecution of police officers for use of deadly force incidents as long as there is continuance of the pervasive ignorance in judicial and prosecutorial ranks of the dynamics of police culture and police practices. We live in a society in which there is a nonsensical and inaccurate perception of police work by most laypeople. By example, non-scientific, baseless notion that all (verses some) police officers live a life of danger and have a job that no one else wants, perpetuates and encourages police violence against civilians. Strangely many laypeople fail to realize that many police officers do payroll, shuttle politicians and inventory property, etc.
Provided that lay people possess a false perception of police officers constantly dodging bullets, then people in Chicago, by example, will say little to nothing about the recent, in progress, inappropriate militarization attempts of Chicago Police Department. Nor will most lay people, including Judge Cooperman and prosecutors ever have the courage or knowledge to criticize wrongful police behavior.
Since “911” in particular, police officers have been placed on pedestal that they don’t deserve. In this sort of environment, to convict a police officer of harming a civilian is said to be unpatriotic. The NBPA holds that realism should replace euphoria and fiction. Hence, police officers should be required not only to use fire discipline and judgment on Park Avenue, but as well on the urban streets of Jamaica, Queens or Englewood in Chicago.
The crime of Recklessness is so easy to identify and prove. Judge Cooperman’s verdict emboldens the justification that black people have to distrust judges. Who can people-of-color turn to–to stop abuse by prosecutors and judges? The Sean Bell verdict shows people-of-color that a stop to the misery of judicial abuse in the United States will not stop anytime soon.
By Christopher C. Cooper