Cops Acquitted in 50-Bullet Killing of Unarmed Black Man on His Wedding Day

This morning in New York, three police detectives were found "not guilty" in the murder of Sean Bell, a 23-year old African-American man who was shot to death on his wedding day, November 25, 2006. His death sparked outrage in a city that is no stranger to police brutality; the list of police killings of unarmed black men over the years is long and familiar.

But the details in this case were grotesque. Fifty shots were fired at Bell and his friends, who were celebrating his bachelor party at a Queens strip club; one of the plainclothes officers -- himself responsible for 31 shots -- stopped to re-load.

Bell died after being hit four times in the neck and torso. But not before being handcuffed.

"Mr. Bell, mortally wounded and not speaking, and Joseph Guzman, despite wounds from his head to his feet, were put in handcuffs after the gunfire ceased," the New York Times reported. The case was shocking enough to elicit a strong response from Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who called the shooting "inexplicable" and "unacceptable."

Of the five police officers involved in the shooting, three would be indicted by a grand jury. When it came to the trial, the defense opted for a judge rather than a jury, after attempting, unsuccessfully, to get the venue moved out of Queens. "Eighty-three percent of black potential jurors think the shooting was unjustified," defense attorneys argued. "Many have already decided that there is nothing more to consider and that the police are necessarily guilty of some crime."

As CNN aired images of the scene following the verdict this morning, it was not hard to see why. The anger and the pain on the faces of those gathered outside the courtroom spoke to years of seeing sons, brothers, and husbands brutalized by law enforcement officers apparently programmed to see black bodies as dispensable.

"There's no evidence that race had anything to do with it," Mayor Bloomberg concluded in November 2006. Really? Did race also have nothing to do with the case of Khiel Coppin? Timothy Stansbury? Amadou Diallo?

As much as people like to treat police shootings as "tragic" isolated incidents, the reality is that police officers inflict violence on black communities on a regular basis. And they get away with it -- again and again and again.

Reporters this morning took pains to remind viewers that for the police officers involved, their lives were forever changed. "With this case there's no winners, there's no losers," said the president of the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association. Spare us. Bell had two young daughters with his fiancée, Nicole, who took his name to honor her would-be husband's memory. This morning, she fled the courtroom immediately after the verdict was read.

"I think it's not right, because they shot him 50 times," said one young man named Kamau, who came to the courthouse with his dad. "They knew he was hurt, and they kept shooting him. He didn't even have a gun."

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