On April 25, the three NYPD detectives who killed bridegroom Sean Bell the night before his wedding and wounded his two friends were acquitted of all charges. The undercover officers, who had riddled Bell's car with 50 shots, claimed in court that they were scared by Bell and his friends, even though the men were unarmed and on their way home from a club. Detective Michael Oliver must have been especially frightened. He alone fired 31 shots, even stopping to reload on his way to killing Bell. Arthur Cooperman, a 78-year-old judge scheduled to retire next year (the cops were spared a jury of their peers), essentially ruled that the officers' supposed fear justified their indiscriminate firing of 50 shots at Bell and his unarmed friends.
The crowd that gathered outside the courtroom was stunned when the verdict was announced. Hours later, in the streets of Jamaica, Queens, where Sean Bell lived and died, marchers gathered almost spontaneously to vent their rage against the verdict and the epidemic of police brutality that has touched communities across New York City. As night descended, and the march detoured first to the site of Bell's killing, then to a housing project in South Jamaica, Queens, the crowd grew in size and in the intensity of its anger. Calls for violent retaliation against the police nearly became reality, as marchers surrounded vans filled with NYPD officers, forcing the police to withdraw from the streets and rely on aerial surveillance instead.
I attended the march with a cameraman by my side, and stayed until the end, well after the media had left, to report on the frustration that animated the march, and capture the drama that unfolded. Though the city has remained peaceful in the wake of last weekend's demonstrations, my video suggests that the heightened tension between residents of inner-city communities and cops may cross a dangerous threshold unless justice is done. With bold visual evidence, my coverage clearly contradicts the New York Times' careless contention that "the acquittals in the Bell case have so far been largely met with a muted response. Thousands of protesters did not fill the streets, no unrest ensued."
In my video, I also probed the Sean Bell verdict's impact on the presidential campaign. As my friend Roberto Lovato wrote last week, Barack Obama's "Failure to use his rhetorical gifts to speak forcefully to and about real black and non-black anger about the Sean Bell verdict may re-animate doubts about commitment to that part of his base that is not white middle- and working-class."
Sure enough, after Obama responded to an African-American reporter's question about the verdict with a boilerplate call for "com[ing] together," and stressed the need to respect Cooperman's decision, he received an angry phone call from Al Sharpton. Sharpton, who has pressed for a federal investigation into Bell's killing, reportedly accused Obama of seeking to "grandstand in front of white people." Though Sharpton has since denied attacking Obama, their alleged tiff highlights the quandary Obama faces as he looks to cultivate support among blue collar white voters while maintain his credibility in the black community.
I was proud to feature new music in my video by my friends for over a decade, the legendary live hip-hop band, Dujeous. Their song, "Eyewitness," which was inspired by Sean Bell's killing, features one of hip-hop's most incisive political rappers, Immortal Technique. Check it out.
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