Saturday, April 26, 2008

A Fatal Mistake

Two sentences from Justice Arthur Cooperman's verdict in the Sean Bell case explain his judgment and why so many New Yorkers will find it unsatisfying:
The police response with respect to each defendant was not proved to be criminal, i.e. beyond a reasonable doubt. Questions of carelessness and incompetence must be left to other forums.

It is exactly such questions that make this case so frustrating. As the Times' Jim Dwyer explained,
The trial provided some answers on why the police officers fired: They mistakenly believed there was a gun in Mr. Bell's car. But the case did not explain how anyone could have expected him to know that he was being approached by a police officer at 4 a.m.....

A Federal prosecution is unlikely, so the next person to pass judgment is likely to be Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly. Already, Kelly says, recommendations to avoid a repetition of the Bell case have been put into practice. I only wish I found that firm grounds to believe that we will not see another such incident.

In an editorial, "They Must Go," the Daily News argues that the three detectives should be thrown off the force:
They killed an unarmed man. They brought irreparable loss to his family. They tore the social fabric. They damaged race relations, regardless of the fact that one is black, one half-black and one Hispanic. And they case the NYPD into the worst possible light.

The News has it right. I'd like to see other cops learn something from this awful episode, and perhaps they will. But I don't want the three detectives in this case to ever again be in a position where they can make such a deadly mistake.

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