Sunday, April 27, 2008

NY Times covers Bell case, black reaction

From NY Times:
There was anger on the streets of Jamaica, Queens, where Sean Bell was killed in a hail of 50 police bullets in 2006 — both before and after a judge on Friday acquitted three detectives who had been charged in the shooting. But many black men and women in Jamaica and elsewhere in New York said their anger was tempered by the complicated case that unfolded in a city less racially divided than 10 years ago.

In Harlem, Willie Rainey, 60, a Vietnam veteran and retired airport worker, said that he believed the detectives should have been found guilty, but that he saw the case through a prism not of race, but of police conduct. “It’s a lack of police training,” Mr. Rainey said. “It’s not about race when you have black killing black. We overplay the black card as an issue.”

It may seem like the NY Times is trying to mute anger over the Bell verdict, but a point needs to be made that the piece attempts.

First, two of the officers were black.

This dynamic mutes outrage in certain circles because the most vociferous rhetoric that police brutality advocates feed off of is racial polarization. White cops kill black suspects is easier for the public and media to digest. It's a simple headline with an ugly history loaded in those five buzzwords. However, when black officers kill black suspects the subject shifts to more stodgy matters such as police conduct. Also, we should note that many African-Americans have friends or family who are police officers and empathetic to the dangers of the job.

Second, the outrage was limited to the activist community.

Unlike the Jena 6 movement, which ballooned into pop culture, the Bell shooting and subsequent trial was confined to the NYC area. Surprisingly, awareness was easier to broadcast from the small town of Jena, Louisiana than the media epicenter of NYC. This may have something to do with fatigue, controversial police shootings in NYC are becoming commonplace. As the article notes:

“The times have changed,” said Mr. Clark, a case manager for H.I.V. and AIDS patients who lives nearby in St. Albans. “People have been so disappointed by the outcome of the judicial system. Every five years something crazy happens, and people are people. They move on with their lives.”

Lastly, no one can surely say whether NYC is more or less racially polarized as it was ten years ago but the leadership is certainly less divisive. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is not Rudy Giuliani. Those that have followed Bloomberg's political career know he's marketed as a post-partisan politician. Bloomberg's mayor tenure is completely contrary to the draconian Giuliani years, at least in image and (false?) consciousness.

Almost immediately after the Bell shooting Bloomberg acknowledged the incident looked as if the NYPD employed excessive force. That slight wording didn't bring the Bell family the verdict it sought, but it removed the burdening image that the political leadership was unbridled in its support of the NYPD.

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