On Nov. 25, 2006, Sean Bell and two of his friends were shot at 50 times by five different New York City detectives in the Jamaican section of the city. Bell was celebrating his bachelor party with some friends at a Queens nightclub when he got into a car and the three young men were showered with bullets. Bell left behind a fiancé, as well as two young children. According to the legal history textbook, Race, Law, and American Society : 1607 to present, police brutality is often embedded in racial discrimination. In New York, a state with a large immigrant population, the problem can be exacerbated.
In March 2007, a grand jury indicted Detective Michael Oliver and Detective Gescard F. Isnora with first-degree and second-degree manslaughter. A third officer, Detective Marc Cooper, was charged with reckless endangerment. Justice Arthur Cooperman acquitted all three officers. The family of Sean Bell filed a lawsuit against the police officers in 2007. In the lawsuit, they accused the police of wrongful death, negligence, assault and racially motivated civil rights violations. This week, New York City awarded a total of $7 million in damages to Bell’s children and two friends. His fiancée, Nicole Paultre Bell, and his two children were awarded $3.25 million, while his friend Joseph Guzman was awarded $3 million, and Trent Benefield was awarded $900,000. Both friends were injured during the shooting.
In 1997, Abner Louima was a victim of police brutality in jail. He was a Haitian man who intervened at a Brooklyn club when two women were fighting each other. In the squabble, he punched police officer Justin Volpe. Louima was arrested on charges of disorderly conduct, obstructing government administration, and resisting arrest. At the 70th Precinct station house, he was ordered to remove his clothes and was placed in a cell, where Volpe sodomized him with a broomstick. Louima also lost teeth when Volpe shoved a plunger in his mouth. He was sent to the hospital, where the officers claimed he had engaged in homosexual activity. The nurse on call, however, suspected torture and notified authorities. In December 1999, Volpe was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
In 1999, Amadou Diallo, a Guinean man, was shot at 41 times by police officers and hit 19 times at his own home. When an undercover street crime unit knocked on his door, he reached in his pocket for his wallet to get his identification card and the officers opened fire. The police were acquitted in Albany courts, but the Diallo case was the cause for many protests and petitions.
The cases of Sean Bell, Abner Louima, and Amadou Diallo are extreme examples of police brutality. All were black men in the state of New York who endured physical abuse at the hands of public officials. Let’s hope that the most recent Sean Bell lawsuit pushes this issue into the public eye, so we can provide better training for policemen and avoid more police brutality cases in the future.
For further reading, consult:
Race, Law, and American Society : 1607 to present Gloria J.Browne-Marshall, Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2007
New York Times City Room, http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/07/28/7-million-settlement-in-shooting-of-sean-bell/