Revolution #83 Online Edition


NYPD Murder of Sean Bell

Grand Jury Indictments DO NOT Fit the Crime!!

On March 19, the Queens DA unsealed the grand jury's findings on the NYPD cops who killed Sean Bell on November 25 last year and severely wounded his friends, Trent Benefield and Joseph Guzman. Two of the cops—Michael Oliver, who fired 31 times, and Gescard Isnora, who was the first to shoot and fired 11 times—were charged with first- and second-degree manslaughter, as well as assault and reckless endangerment. The third cop, Marc Cooper, was charged only with reckless endangerment, a misdemeanor. If Oliver and Isnora are found guilty on all charges, they will face a maximum of 25 years in jail.

The view of the cops is that NO charges should have come down. Michael Palladino, the head of the Detectives Endowment Association, argues that those cops were placed in a situation where they had to make a split second decision to deal with what could’ve been a threat to their lives.

Others, including various DAs, have said that the manslaughter charges (which are significantly less heavy than murder) are appropriate. They say these cops didn’t set out to kill anyone that night, so Sean’s death was only a by-product of actions they took to try to deal with a potentially dangerous situation. Some of them even say that people who oppose police brutality should be glad these cops were charged with manslaughter and not murder, because it’s very unlikely that cops would be convicted of murder, but they might be convicted of manslaughter.

But the truth of the matter is: Charges should have been brought down on ALL the cops involved in the murder of Sean Bell. And the charges against the three cops are NOT AT ALL commensurate with the horrible crime they committed.

A charge of first-degree manslaughter requires intent to injure one or more persons and someone being killed in the course of that being done. The difference between that and a charge of murder is that the intent has to be not only to injure, but to kill. This intent to kill doesn’t mean that these cops had to have decided earlier that night to kill Sean. It means that their intent in carrying out the actions that led to Sean’s death had to be to kill someone, not just to injure somebody.

These cops shot 50 bullets at Bell, Benefield, and Guzman. One of them fired 31 bullets, emptying a full clip, reloading his gun, and emptying a second clip. Another fired 11 shots. Does this sound like they only wanted to injure, not kill their targets?? You shoot at somebody 31 times, or even 11 times—you're clearly trying to kill them, not injure or just disable them.

And why did two of the cops involved in the shooting get no charges at all? All five of the cops trailed Bell, Benefield, and Guzman to their car that night and blocked them in with two unmarked police vehicles. Some fired fewer bullets than others did, but they all were part of the squad that surrounded the car, blocked it in and then unleashed a rain of deadly bullets.

These actions meet the legal system’s own criteria for murder charges. And the reason these cops didn't get charged with murder is that they are cops—and the system has an entirely different “criteria” and approach when cops kill and maim than when ordinary people are suspected of criminal activity.

When the legal system deals with ordinary people, the DAs go for the most serious charges they can get, and they charge everyone who was even remotely involved with those serious charges.

What does it take under this system to get a cop indicted and convicted for murder? Many people are asking that very question. Here you have a case where unarmed people got hit with a hail of murderous gunfire, and two of the victims survived to tell how this murderous assault went down. On top of this, there were massive outpourings of people taking to the streets demanding justice in this case. And the most serious charge that results from this is manslaughter?

They are rubbing this in people’s faces right now, telling us that it's better that the cops were charged with manslaughter and not murder because it’s essentially impossible to get cops convicted of murder—of intent to kill. So we should be glad that we got any charges on these cops, and we should take what we can get. Of course following this “experts'” logic, you’d conclude you also can’t get cops convicted for first-degree manslaughter, because that too involves a question of intent, even if "only" intent to injure. The logic of this logic is that it would be better still if these cops had been given even LESS serious charges—maybe no felony charges at all, maybe just misdemeanors like reckless endangerment—so there would be an even better chance that these cops would be convicted of at least something!

This is logic that the people must reject. We should not accept that the cops’ actions that night were anything less than what they actually were—MURDER. And even the fact that these cops were indicted with anything at all is because of the massive outrage and response from the people.

These charges don’t guarantee that any of the cops will be punished for what they did that night. And if there is to be any justice delivered in this case, the masses of people are going to have to fight tooth and nail for it.

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