Ladies and gentleman of the jury, I am here today to ask you to bring justice to this courtroom and due righteousness for the needless death of Sean Bell by the hands of these three men, Detectives Gescard Isnora, Michael Oliver, and Marc Cooper, who I know you will find guilty of the charges against them. Sean Bell was a 23-year-old young man celebrating the end of his single life at his bachelor party with some close friends. The detectives, who were eager to find mischief among any of the club’s patrons in which they were monitoring undercover, came up short in their efforts to prove the club was involved in prostitution. Instead of going back empty-handed, so to speak, the detectives created a scenario based on hearsay of a group of celebratory drunken men who were set to watch their friend, Mr. Bell, greet his bride at the alter the following day.
What we have here is yet another unfortunate case of racial profiling in which the color of Mr. Bell’s skin marked him as a criminal. The detectives were not there to arrest Mr. Bell or his companions; they were there on suspicion of an entirely different crime that proved fruitless. When the intoxicated Mr. Bell and his companions made their way out of the club that night in Jamaica Queens, just a few short hours before the scheduled wedding of a young man with the world ahead of him, the detectives were blinded by their own racial biases that convinced them what Detective Isnora claims to have heard, which was that they had a gun stashed back in their vehicle and were planning to use it on another club patron over an alleged disagreement. The other detectives involved were quick to assume the same thing about this group of young men, and before receiving any confirmation of the so called suspects being armed, they opened fire in a Jamaica Queens neighborhood, firing 50 shots, enough of which were targeted at Sean Bell to kill the unarmed young man behind the wheel of a vehicle, trying to get home on the morning of his wedding. One must ask, why 50 shots? Why such an excessive force to take down these men without any evidence of wrongdoing?
Some may argue that Mr. Bell was at fault for driving the vehicle, which allegedly attempted to run over detective Isnora. All that Mr. Bell was guilty of that night was trying to flee a situation that he did not fully comprehend--a group of undercover officers dressed as regular men, drawing weapons on him and his friends as they tried to leave the nightclub where they had been innocently celebrating. It is probable that Mr. Bell panicked, not only at the sight of guns aimed at the vehicle but with the knowledge that he had been drinking and now operating a vehicle. It is also presumed that his companion, Mr. Joseph Guzman, had some history with drug involvement and instructed Mr. Bell to flee the scene of what was essentially an ambush.
At twenty-three years old, as a young black male outside a club in the early morning hours of the night, you must ask yourselves if you would have acted any differently than Mr. Bell. More importantly, as decent people of this great city of New York, you must also ask yourself if you would have shot and killed an innocent man on his wedding day without any evidence of wrongdoing. Would you open fire in a residential neighborhood, firing 50 shots that could have killed a number of innocent bystanders? Even as an officer, would you go against protocol and draw your weapon while in plain clothes and pursue the men who were by no means acting aggressively or suspicious? As the club emptied out, could you be sure you heard claims that these men had a weapon and were going to return to the club to shoot another person who was loitering outside? If you were among these three detectives, you would have. You would be guilty of murdering an innocent young man who was intimidated and panicked by the sight of plain-clothes men aiming their guns at him.
As we now know, there was no gun found in possession of Mr. Bell or the two other men who were also nearly killed in this horrific act of racial profiling and modern-day policing with the use of police brutality by means of intimidation. Although Mr. Bell should not have been behind the wheel of a car after consuming alcohol, he could have been anywhere doing anything perceived as suspicious and these detectives would profile him as a suspect of a crime or criminal intent only because of his skin color. It matters not what the ethnicity is of the officers; any minority status is only further proof of the prevalent misconceptions held by police officers who assume young, black males will at some point turn to crime. This is not just racial profiling, but a failed attempt at claiming colorblindness. Racism is racism.
Based on these undeniable facts, it is my recommendation that Detectives Gescard Isnora, Michael Oliver, and Marc Cooper be held accountable for their actions and found guilty of charges equal to their offenses. It is possible that Isnora and Oliver could have been guilty of first and second-degree manslaughter, while Cooper will likely be charged with reckless endangerment for opening fire in public. Isnora misleads the team that resulted in this tragedy and Oliver shot 30 of the 50 shots that killed Sean Bell. Isnora and Oliver could be faced with a potential 25 years in prison; however this is not my recommendation given the unfortunate set of circumstances.
It is my opinion that the officers, although clearly at fault, should not do any serious time and that their punishment should justly reflect their wrongdoing. Officer Isnora’s charges could be dropped to involuntary manslaughter. Officer Isnora did not intentionally kill Sean Bell, although Mr. Bell was obviously an unfortunate target. 12 months in prison with probation and a pay fine of $3000 dollars is a standard and just punishment for this offense.
Detective Oliver fired 31 shots, an excessive amount of force. He emptied two magazines trying to stop the vehicle Sean Bell was driving. One of the shots he fired passed through a residence in the neighborhood. He should certainly be charged for reckless endangerment. I believe he should lose his badge and given a pay $3000 dollar fine for his actions. Similarly, Detective Cooper should be charged with reckless endangerment. A bullet fired from his gun nearly hit a Port Authority officer. Officer Cooper should also be suspended from active police duty with a fine of $3000.
For those who believe my recommendations to be harsh, I would like to draw your attention to the interview of Detective Isnora with NBC New York. When asked how he felt after being forced to turn over his badge and the prosecution of himself and the other detectives, he simply stated: “I was there doing my job.” With the life of a young man lost and no criminal activity found, one has to ask, what job is that?
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