Apr 10, 2009
sean bell, in retrospect
I'm a little late to party: I'm just learning to use video. This unthrilling footage was taken on May 7, 2008 when there were coordinated acts of civil disobedience throughout NYC in response to a "not guilty" verdict for the cops who murdered Sean Bell. This symbolic blockade took the street and blocked the Queens-Midtown tunnel for about half hour during rush hour traffic. The idea was to shut the city down, but that didn't quite happen.
- Pictures from One Police Plaza
- Pictures from Harlem
- Report from the Brooklyn Bridge
- Report from the Triborough Bridge
It didn't happen because when black people are routinely murdered by the NYPD, the only people who become enraged enough in any numbers are black people. At the one big march that happened right after Sean Bell died, there were very, very few faces that were not black. People like to believe the dirt throwing stories that are drummed up: that the victim had been arrested once on drug charges, that he'd been rumored by another drug user to have an illegal weapon. But neither of things, if true, justify what happened.
The fact is that Sean Bell wasn't high when he was killed, and had no weapon. Undercover officers followed he and his friends out of a bar, drew guns on them without identifying themselves as police offers, and shot three unarmed men fifty times.
There's no doubt that the amount of force endorsed by the NYPD is outrageous, and that an enormous number of people are murdered by them every year; for being black, for being mentally ill, for being homeless or sex workers.
I've blogged some of these images before, but feel today, like it's worth posting them again. When Amadou Diallo was killed, and a group of mostly white queers kicked off the demonstrations, Al Sharpton was moved to say "I am a Fed Up Queer." Though honored by that statement, I think it means there aren't enough allies for the black community. We're way more comfortable assuming victims are some kind of troublemaker, that there must have been good reason.