Last week, three New York Police Department (NYPD) officers were acquitted in the murder trial of Sean Bell. The 23 year-old African-American father was leaving a Queens nightclub in November of last year after spending time with friends. Apparently, Bell & his friends - all unarmed innocent civilians - were pulling out of the driveway when officers Marc Cooper, Gescard Isnora & Michael Oliver fired a total of 50 (!) shots, killing Bell & wounding his friends Timothy Benefield & Juan Guzman. Bell was engaged to be married the day he was murdered.
This story is not an isolated one, in that the daily assault & compromise of Black male life in New York City, as well as in other American cities, by corrupt cops often resolve without criminal accountability, financial hardship, legal discipline and/or political outrage. The officers' justified their shooting because they believed they heard gun shots, yet no weapons were found on the premises.
Of course, this same faulty logic was used against the likes of Michael Griffiths, Eleanor Bumpurs, Reginald Baez, Amadou Diallo, Patrick Dorismond and countless other people of color who died at the hands of the men in blue. In this incident, one of the cops reloaded & fired 31 shots at Bell himself. How dead did he have to be before he was no longer a threat? When is enough enough?
Rev. Al Sharpton, President of the National Action Network, immediately responded by spearheading the fight for justice on behalf of Bell's distraught fiance & devastated family. Additionally, a diverse contingent of activists, community-based organizations & progressive folk employed the strategies & tenets of the civil rights movement immediately after Bell's murder: boycotts, demonstrations, marches, press conferences, sit-ins, town hall meetings, i.e. were held to mobilize the masses, raise awareness & spark dialogue on issues of police brutality, racial profiling & unjust treatment of African-descended people.
I faithfully attended a number of these events & was encouraged by the commitment, energy & passion of ordinary folk who probably would not convene under other circumstances: New York can be a cold & indifferent place to live at times. You can learn about folks' beliefs, character & values when somebody is killed, especially a young, Black male, as people handle trauma differently, often depending on their cultural, familial & spiritual roots.
For example, a few days ago I received an annoying chain e-mail suggesting folks to wear all black all day on Monday, April 28, as a means of protesting the verdict. I stopped to meditate on this suggestion, then I realized I've been wearing all black all day since I was released from the womb of my mother on August 6, 1960. I fully respect & understand the importance of symbolism, but is this the best we can do as a conscious people? I don't think so.
In New York, a coalition of civil rights advocates are calling for a permanent state-level special prosecutor to handle police brutality cases. Sharpton said, "we strategically know how to stop this city so it will stand still & realize that you do not have the right to shoot down unarmed innocent civilians with no probable cause. But they show now that they will not hold police accountable. Well, guess what? If you won't, we will."
There were also calls for the intervention of US Attorney General Michael Mukasey & the announcement of a massive protest march planned jointly by the nation's leading civil rights organizations. Charles Steele, national president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), was one of several national civil rights leaders to discuss strategy in response to the verdict. Steele said, "we are going to march. We can't let this get away. We can't expect a system that enslaves us to save us. We must do this for ourselves."
Personally, I'm tired of marching. My feet hurt. In fact, I've grown more corns than a farmer in Iowa :-) Yes, marching serves a purpose, yet more importantly, as freedom fighter Frederick Douglasa prophetically stated, "power never conceded anything without a demand...it never has & it never will." I believe in critical thinking, cultural affirmation & self-determination. If we want freedom, we need economic & political power. Also, I wonder what Senators Clinton, McCain & Obama think about this case...or, are they too busy running for office to give a damn?
- mark j. tuggle
- harlem, usa
- same-gender-loving contemporary descendant of enslaved africans. community activist, feminist, health educator, independent filmmaker, mentor, playwright, poet & spiritual being. featured at, in & on africana.com, afrikan poetry theatre, angel herald, bejata dot com, bet tonight with tavis smiley, blacklight online, black noir, brooklyn moon cafe, gmhc's barbershop, klmo-fm, lgbt community services center, longmoor productions, nuyorican poets cafe, our corner, poz, pulse, rolling out new york, rush arts gallery, saint veronica's church, schomburg center for research in black culture, sexplorations, the citizen, the new york times, the soundz bar, the trenton times, the village voice, upn news, uzuri, venus, vibe, wbai-fm, wnyc-fm & wqht-fm. volunteered with adodi, bailey house, inc., black men's xchange-new york, colorofchange.org, drug policy alliance, east harlem tutorial program, imagenation film & music festival, presente.org, save darfur coalition, the enough project, the osborne association, the sledge group & your black world. worked on films with maurice jamal & heather murphy. writing student of phil bertelsen & ed bullins. firstname.lastname@example.org.