Sean Bell (1983-2006) was shot dead in 2006 by the New York police. They shot 50 bullets at him and his two friends. Like with Amadou Diallo, shot dead by the New York police in 1999 with 41 bullets, Bell was unarmed and black. And, like with Diallo, the police were found innocent of any crime and walked free.
The stories told of that night do not add up or make sense. This is my best sense of it:
On that night Bell and two of his friends, Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield, walked out of Club Kahlua, a bikini bar in Jamaica, Queens. They had taken him there for his bachelor party – Bell was getting married the next day.
Bell was drunk. Outside the bar he got into an argument with a pimp. The pimp acted like he had a gun to threaten them, so Guzman, one of Bell’s friends, said “Yo, get my gun, get my gun.” He did not have one – he was trying to get the pimp to back down.
Bell and his two friends went to his car and got in.
The next thing they know a man appears with a gun drawn. Bell drove forward but the way was blocked by a minivan. He knocked over the gunman and ran into the minivan. He tried to back up – still no good: that way was blocked too.
Bell died, his two friends lived. Guzman still has four bullets in him. They were completely unarmed. Bell was 23. His wife-to-be came to the hospital, on what was to be her wedding day, and found him dead.
The gunmen, as it turned out, had nothing to do with the pimp, as far as we know. They were undercover New York policemen. They were there to arrest a prostitute but then overheard the dispute between Bell and the pimp.
They said they were afraid that Bell and his friends were going to drive back and shoot the pimp. So they blocked his way.
The first gunman, Gescard Isnora, said he opened fire because he saw Guzman reach for his gun. Except that Guzman had no gun. Feeling threatened Isnora and two other policemen, Michael Oliver and Marc Cooper, shot off eight rounds.
Oliver was white, Isnora and Cooper were black. Oliver shot most of the bullets. He even reloaded.
The case went to court. The prosecution was played by the Queens district attorney’s office. I say “played” because they depend on the police and cannot be expected to put up a strong case against them. That is why the policemen walked free. It did not help that the judge believed the police over Sean Bell’s friends.
While it is true that two of the policemen were black in this case, it is mighty curious how only unarmed black men get pumped full of bullets by the police and not, say, unarmed white men or Korean grocers.