By Jamile Karout
Seventeen months to the day since the November 25, 2006 shooting of Sean Bell, a queens judge found three undercover detectives involved not guilty on all charges today (April 24).
Detectives Michael Oliver and Gescard Isnora who faced the most charges, were both acquitted on first and second degree manslaughter, which carries a possible sentence of 25 years in prison.
They were also acquitted of first and second degree felony assault, and reckless endangerment. Detective Marc Cooper was also acquitted on the two counts of reckless endangerment he was charged with.
"The Hip-Hop Summit Action Network expressed today its profound dismay in the wake of the not guilty verdicts for the New York City police officers who were involved in the killing of Sean Bell," HSAN President and CEO Dr. Benjamin Chavis told AllHipHop.com. "Hip-Hop is an inclusive cultural phenomenon that represents the highest aspirations of all youth of the human family. The injustice that is so evident in the case of Sean Bell reminds us of the old America at a time when millions of young people are raising their voices and votes for a new America. Police brutality is not a new phenomenon, but unfortunately, the system of justice, particularly in New York City, appears to be incapable of rendering equal justice without the taint of racial bias and prejudice."
The verdict came in just after 9:00 am, after nearly two weeks of deliberation.
The detectives opted out of a trial by jury and instead the seven weeks of testimony was heard by State Supreme Court Justice Arthur J Cooperman.
"This case was not about justice. This case was about the police officers having the right to act above the law… Justice was not here today. This court is obviously bankrupt of justice when it comes to people of color," added Leroy Gadsden of the NAACP.
According to Judge Cooperman, he had a hard time finding the testimony of the victims credible. "The people have not proved beyond a reasonable doubt that each defendant was not justified" in shooting the victims, Cooperman said.
"What happened in that case is a f***ing travesty," outspoken Atlanta rapper Killer Mike told AllHipHop.com. "What is the police trying to force the underclass to do? The police maintain jobs when they have something to police. By agitating the people you just create a bigger need for police. So instead of the police protecting and serving the community, the community becomes a commodity for the police force."
Steele of pioneering Hip-Hop duo Smif-N-Wessun expressed his anger with the verdict, as well as the police.
"There’s a war against us waged by the so-called powers that be and their first infantry are these murderous pigs they use to keep us in place by harassment and murder," Steele said. "We must stand together and defend ourselves and be smart. We are all under surveillance. It’s time to stand up."
Sean Bell, 23, was killed in the early morning hours of November 25, 2006 after leaving Kalua, a Queens strip club where he'd just wrapped up his bachelor party.
An NYPD undercover investigation unit looking to make arrests in their prostitution case witnessed an argument between one of Bells friends and another man.
Detective Isnora told the grand jury that he believed that Bells friend Joseph Guzman was going to get a gun out of Bells car.
That's when he followed the men and called for back up. Bell, along with his two friends Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield got into his Nissan Altima.
Then with Bell behind the wheel, officers approached the car and drew their weapons without identifying themselves as police, according to the testimony of Guzman and Benefield.
Detective Oliver was the only one who reloaded his 9mm semi automatic weapon firing 31 shots, while Detective Isnora let off 11 shots, and Detective Cooper fired 4.
No gun was found in Bells car. Dr. Chavis urged the Hip-Hop community to remain calm and channel any anger into positive, constructive energy to bring forth change.
"The anger and disgust that the Hip-Hop community certainly feels today should not be permitted to develop into anything negative, as a response," Dr. Chavis noted. "Sean Bell's death will not be in vain, to the extent to which millions of youth work even harder to demand equal justice, and to fundamentally change the current system of injustice."