Tuesday, November 28, 2006

NYC & Sean Bell - Sadly Enough, Let the Games Begin ...

NY Times reports on the growing tension fueling understandable anger in the Sean Bell shooting in:

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg convened an extraordinary meeting of black religious leaders and elected officials at City Hall yesterday to calm frayed tempers over the fatal police shooting of an unarmed black man in Queens, calling the circumstances “inexplicable” and “unacceptable.”

“It sounds to me like excessive force was used,” the mayor said of the conduct of the officers, who fired 50 shots outside a Queens nightclub early Saturday, killing Sean Bell, 23, hours before he was to be wed, and injuring two others. “I can tell you that it is to me unacceptable or inexplicable how you can have 50-odd shots fired.”

Bell's father makes a cogent point:

“It’s more about politics than human life,” he said. Mr. Bloomberg has spoken with Sean Bell’s fiancée and said he plans to visit the family soon, but William Bell said none of the officials had reached out to him.

And that's where the political games will begin as there are some who will find ways to leverage political clout through this tragedy.

Whereby we agree there is need for a serious re-examination of police relations with African American communities nationwide (and are distressed by recent studies which reveal an upward surge in excessive force by police forces and overuse of SWAT teams), we also see a dilemma with respect to New York city, which has experienced a 70% drop in crime since the Giuliani years. The aggressive policing, "Broken Window," quality-of-life strategy obviously had its successes in dramatically reducing crime in a city once notoriously synonymous with it. There is a cost-benefit analysis to weigh here. But, as the Bell case shows us, it has its drawbacks and police departments need to really assess the very aggressive, disrespectful and sometimes downright rude disposition of many of their officers who give the profession a bad image. That's troubling, because law and order is an essential function of any civilized society. NYC is not the only place where this is happening - finding a calm and respectful police officer is unfortunately becoming something of a sport similar to "Punch Buggy" games on the school bus. We understand it's a stressful job; departments need to promote more counseling, less overtime and viewing citizens as partners rather than adversaries. Police etiquette and displays of public respect should be just as critical as citizen compliance with basic laws. If that's not the case, then perhaps departments should be honest about how they view us and simply issue a guide of protocols or rules for citizens on how to interact with police officers having a bad day.

It is likely that this was more so an incident of misplaced police anger mixed with fear than an outwardly racist act - community leaders such as Sharpton should tread lightly on this subject, particularly when Black and Latino officers account for a majority of the 5 officers involved in the shooting.