Revolution #73, December 17, 2006
Bursting Into the Atmosphere
People Demand Justice For Sean Bell
"This is the first time I have come to a rally. It has hurt me before with Amadou Diallo; so many other brothers that have died. I'm tired. The way you make a change is to stand up for yourself. So I decided to take a stand and come down."
--Woman protester, at a December 6 demonstration against the police murder of Sean Bell
"I'm by the fire hydrant and they just come and ask me what I'm doing. They ask if I'm selling drugs, and they just seen me going in the house five minutes ago. My block is a hot area [for drug dealing], but still it's wrong because they say you're rude and then lock you up."
--One of the students at a Bronx high school attending a mock town hall meeting to air their grievances over the murder of Sean Bell's death and how the police treat young Black men on the street
Hundreds and thousands of angry, grieving people have stepped into the streets in hastily organized outpourings in the last ten days. CUNY students have marched, people have protested in the neighborhood where the murder of Sean Bell took place, and demonstrators took the street in Newark, New Jersey. On December 6, 1,000 people massed at One Police Plaza at a demonstration organized by the December 12 Movement, a radical Black nationalist organization. And as this is written, more demonstrations and other forms of protest are being planned.
For several years, an ugly political atmosphere has ruled out of order any expression of outrage at police gunning people down in the street. Now this has begun to be punctured, and the real stories of victims and their families have grabbed national attention.
23-year-old Sean Bell died in a hail of 50 bullets fired by five NYPD cops in the early morning hours of Saturday, Nov. 25, as he, Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield left Sean's bachelor party. He was killed several hours before his wedding.
Appearing Dec. 4 on the nationwide "Larry King Live" program, Sean's fiancée, Nicole Paultre, explained how Guzman and Benefield told her from their hospital beds that they were convinced they were about to be carjacked. "They were afraid," she said. The two have described to their lawyers the terrifying moment when an undercover cop who never identified himself followed them from the club and stepped in front of their car with his gun drawn. When Sean, trying to drive away, clipped the cop with his car, the undercover backup team on the spot opened fire. One of the cops emptied his gun, reloaded and kept shooting. TV news has shown footage of Trent Benefield, shot three times, screaming in agony as he was handcuffed on the ground.
Blaming the Victims: The Second Assault
Some of the media was quick to publish legal records of the victims, including juvenile records which are supposed to be sealed under the law. But if you think the police and the media can't go any lower in justifying street executions, the President of the Detectives' Endowment Association, Michael Palladino, will prove you wrong. He told the local media: "The magic question on the shooting is, 'What do these three men do? How did Bell plan to pay to get married and raise his children?' "
First of all, the NYPD has a whole history of slandering their victims as criminals. They accused Patrick Dorismond of pushing drugs when they murdered him; only later did it come out that he was approached by undercovers and had refused their offers!! And then they got into a scuffle, and for that they killed him! They invented some whole b.s. story about Abner Louima, until the truth finally came out about how they had tortured him--despite their fascist “blue wall of silence.” They lied about Anthony Rosario and Hilton Vega and Anthony Baez and so many countless others that they’ve murdered. So nobody should believe one word that the NYPD says about anything, including “the” and “and.”
But beyond that, this system has created a situation where they’ve closed off every option and hope for millions of the youth, especially Black people and Latinos. Some of their own conservative theoreticians now admit that “crime is a rational choice” for young Black and Latino people. This system has provided no future for these youth; they have criminalized a whole generation; they have declared open season on them, using their police to hound the youth at every turn. And then they use that as an excuse to open fire on people without the slightest provocation, and then slander them once they’ve murdered them. What kind of a system is that ?
Attorney Michael Hardy, who is representing both Guzman and Benefield, got it right. "This is just another indication," Hardy said, "that the NYPD is not investigating any wrongdoing by the officers at the scene, but are interested in creating a cover and motivation to justify the officers' actions and dirty the name of a dead man."
The cops claim that a supposed "fourth man" left the scene with a gun. This provided them a convenient excuse last week to execute raids and sweeps in the projects and neighborhood where Trent Benefield, one of the victims, lives, near the location of the shooting. People in the community were outraged as friends and relatives of the victims and possible witnesses to the shooting were targeted in what many felt was a straight-up attempt to intimidate anyone who might dare to expose the police murderers. Bishop Erskine Williams, a clergyman who has been speaking out against the murder and whose son was arrested in the cops' latest raid on a $25 outstanding ticket, spoke for many when he said, "That's Gestapo tactics." And don’t let yourselves be fooled, either; they will search until they find someone who is in more trouble than an outstanding ticket, and then they’ll try to pressure them into a deal.
Several thousand people from all over the New York area attended Sean's wake and funeral on Dec. 1. Hundreds gathered in knots outside the church, intensely discussing what happened and why the brutal police slayings of young Black men and other people of color continue to happen. "Tell me," one Black youth demanded, "have the pigs ever brought down a white man with 50 shots, or 41 shots like they did Amadou Diallo? I want to know why that is. Can you give me a logical explanation to why that is?" One Black woman at the funeral said to her friends: "I'm a law-abiding person. I love peace, but I'm tired. I'm sick of peace."
A memorial on Liverpool Street for Sean and his two wounded friends has been the site of continued expressions of grief and anger. And there’s been debate, as well. Some there told a Revolution newspaper reporter that they view the police in their community as an "occupation army" and drew an analogy with what U.S. troops are doing in Iraq. Others wondered if the answer is "better training" of these police.
Several of Sean Bell's friends who were at the December 6 rally at One Police Plaza talked about "laws being made that we don't even know about," fearing that one of those laws might say that everything the police do is okay and right. Challenged about a revolutionary solution, they were anguished about whether there is a way out. "We're stuck here," one of Sean's friends said.
The statement of the New York branch of the RCP, "Justice for Sean Bell--50 More Reasons--We Need Revolution" has been widely distributed and discussed in the city as part of this ferment. As this statement says: It is this rotten capitalist/imperialist system that "the police exist to 'serve and protect.' They are nothing but modern-day slave-catchers for a system of profit based on the exploitation of people here and around the world who have nothing to lose and can only live through selling their work--when they can get work. The master's whip has been replaced by the NYPD standard issue semi-automatic and they gun people down again and again, until it seems like we can't have any more tears left. This is why this keeps happening, no matter how many Black and Latino cops get hired and no matter how much 'diversity training' they get and no matter how 'sensitive' the mayor is….” [full statement online at revcom.us]
Carl Dix, spokesperson for the RCP, said:
"Already hundreds of people have taken to the streets in outrage around Sean’s murder in the few days since his death. Calls to remain calm or to wait till all the facts come out must be rejected. Enough facts have already come out. A young man leaving his bachelor party and a few hours away from his wedding is dead. Two of his friends are recovering from gunshot wounds. All were unarmed when the cops fired 50 shots at them. And the police are now carrying out raids in Sean’s neighborhood, arresting family members and friends of the people they shot. That’s enough to conclude that a terrible crime against the people has been committed.
"Mass political action that targets the killer cops and the officials who unleash these brutal, murdering cops and cover up and justify their crimes must continue.
"Without this kind of resistance, the authorities will feel like they can do any damned thing to us, and we’ll suffer it in silence. We have to make clear we will fight to beat back this kind of injustice. And as we do this, we have to be wrangling with and spreading revolutionary ideas and building a movement that’s winning over millions to see that the system is worthless and revolution is what’s needed."
Demonstrations are planned and continue to be planned. Stay tuned to Revolution--and check the website at REVCOM.US for late-breaking developments.
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