It is altogether understandable that many people in Queens and throughout the city feel tremendous anger and disappointment in the not-guilty verdict in the trial of the three detectives charged in the killing of Sean Bell. Although the police officers have been acquitted, there is no denying that something went terribly wrong that night.
In the wake of Friday's verdict, some things should be clear:
1. This was not an execution. There was not one shred of evidence showing that the shooting of Bell was premeditated. This was an undercover operation in a dangerous area of Queens that went tragically out of control.
2. The justice system worked. District Attorney Richard Brown's office made a tremendous effort to win this case. The prosecution presented seven weeks of testimony. The system should not be judged by the outcome but by the integrity of the process. We have not heard one legal analyst find fault with the manner in which Queens Supreme Court Judge Arthur Cooperman conducted this trial.
3. The system continues to work. The U.S. attorney for the Eastern District will now look into the shooting to see if any federal laws were violated. After that, the detectives might face an NYPD administrative hearing, which cannot take place until all criminal investigations are completed. The detectives and the city will no doubt also face a civil suit.
4. The Rev. Al Sharpton and his National Action Network may have damaged the prosecution's case by offering payments to the survivors of the shooting and coaching their testimony. Cooperman would ultimately find that some of the witnesses gave inconsistent testimony and lacked credibility.
5. This was not about race. Yes, Sean Bell was black, but so are two of the detectives charged in the shooting. The two officers who worked undercover inside the strip club were black men who were risking their lives trying to get illegal drugs and weapons off the streets of southeast Queens. And the suggestion that such cops should not be allowed to drink alcohol while working undercover is ludicrous. All dealers would have to do is look for the guy sipping a Shirley Temple.
6. Better relations are needed with the NYPD. It is clear that many of the city's minorities continue to distrust the police and believe that blacks and Hispanics are mistreated. Encouraging more minority men and women to join the NYPD will help, but this is increasingly difficult because NYPD recruits are woefully underpaid.
7. The real danger is not the police. Despite the theatrics of hustlers like Sharpton, the truth is that the real danger in southeast Queens comes not from the police but from violent gangs, the ease in purchasing an illegal gun and the endless supply of cocaine, heroin, crack and other illegal drugs.
The one bright light in this incredible tragedy has been the conduct of Sean Bell's fiance, Nicole Paultre Bell. She has been a profile in courage. Despite sadness that must be overwhelming, she has shown dignity and a desire to make something positive result from her loss.
©2008 Community News Group
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