The police officers who shot unarmed and innocent Sean Bell were acquitted late this week. To most onlookers, the events that resulted in Bell’s death point toward excessive force and wholly inappropriate behavior, first by the undercover officer that imagined Bell was attempting to locate a gun in his car and then by that same officer and his partners, who unloaded 50 shots into Bell and his vehicle before ever seeing a sign that Bell might be armed. Not only was Bell unarmed, but there never was a gun in that car and as it turns out, that undercover officer had pursued Bell to his vehicle solely out of wild suspicion.
Bell’s death recalls the painful memories of Abner Louima and Amadou Diallo, and the impotence of the justice system serves only to remind us that what happened to the Jena Six was not an isolated incident – justice is blind to all but race and power.
When Louima’s case shocked the nation, outrage was smoothed over with guarantees that it would never happen again. When Amadou Diallo was shot 41 times for no justifiable reason, the police claimed again that, though the system was not going to be reformed and the police were guilty of no wrongdoing, there was no reason to be indignant because it would never happen again.
In the weeks following this latest police acquittal, let us not forget this history when the State of New York attempts to placate us by guaranteeing that Sean Bell’s death will be the last of its kind.