We need government cops because private protection forces would be accountable to the powerful and well-connected instead of being accountable to the people.

NEW YORK — The wail that came up from the crowd was as if they heard that Sean Bell had died again.

No! they shouted, while dozens of people, wearing Bell’s face on hats, T-shirts and buttons, burst into sobs.

The scene unfolded outside the courthouse Friday as three police officers were cleared of all charges in the 2006 shooting of Bell, who died in a hail of 50 bullets on his wedding day.

Hundreds of friends of Bell and others wanted vindication for what they called a racially motivated shooting, and they reacted with tears and explosive anger to the officers’ acquittal.

Many people in the predominantly black crowd began reciting other cases where black New Yorkers were shot by police, and the officers, they said, got away with it.

This was a disgrace, what happened today, shouted Calvin Hutton, a Harlem resident. We prayed for a different result, but we got the same old bull——.

Inside the packed Queens courtroom, gasps could be heard when Judge Arthur Cooperman acquitted the officers. Bell’s mother cried; her husband put his arm around her and shook his head. Bell’s fiancee, Nicole Paultre Bell, left the courtroom immediately. . . . Scores of police officers formed lines in the middle of traffic to block the crowd from charging the courthouse.

. . . Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said the judge sent a message to officers that when you’re in front of the bench, that you will get fairness.

. . . William Hardgraves, 48, an electrician from Harlem, brought his 12-year-old son and 23-year-old daughter to hear the verdict. . . . I hoped it would be different this time. They shot him 50 times, Hardgraves said. But of course, it wasn’t.

— Assocated Press 2008-04-25: Sean Bell Supporters Angry About Detectives’ Acquittal in Wedding Day Killing

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7 replies to We need government cops because private protection forces would be accountable to the powerful and well-connected instead of being accountable to the people. Use a feed to Follow replies to this article · TrackBack URI

  1. iceberg

    Rad,

    You are doing a disservice by not quoting all the shameless legal positivists, for example Michael Bloomberg, who said “America is a nation of laws, and though not everyone will agree with the verdicts and opinions issued by the courts, we accept their authority.”

    Equally as disgusting was Barack Obama— “We’re a nation of laws, so we respect the verdict that came down.”

    It’s the ultimate mantra-fication of the common words “law” and “authoritiy” which used to have an important , meaningful denotation, but are now repeatedly used in parlance to bludgeon the peons into lockstep.

    The irony here is that both what Bloomberg and Obama utter is truth, but not in the context of positive law of which they speak of.

  2. Discussed at www.unpartisan.com

    Unpartisan.com Political News and Blog Aggregator:

    N.Y. Police Acquittal Sparks Anger, Appeal for Calm…

    A New York judge has found three police officers not guilty in the death of an unarmed black man who…

  3. Josh

    That was a sad day here in NYC.

    Also, it’s nice to see I’m not the only left-leaning libertarian from the San Antonio area. For full disclosure, I’ve been reading your blog for sometime now (along with Long’s, Carson’s, and McElroy’s among others) and it’s been quite inspirational. You’ve really helped shape my thinking, and I just wanted to say thank you.

  4. Benway

    In response to the Bell verdict, we need to evaluate four distinct statements—two statements of fact, and two statements about justice:

    1) the police should be authorized to respond with deadly force when they reasonably believe their lives or the lives of innocent others to be in immediate jeopardy 2) the police reasonably believed that their lives (or the lives of others) were in immediate jeopardy here 3) the prosecution should be required to demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt (as they were here) that the police did not have this belief 4) the prosecution failed to meet its burden of proof in this case

    I think statement 4 is almost certainly true. I followed the trial closely, and the evidence put on by the prosecution was so ambiguous that the officers didn’t even take the stand in their own defense. Since most of the outrage has been directed at the verdict itself, I think it must be noted that, under the current system that allocates burdens of proof, the verdict was indeed correct—almost indisputably so. If there’s an issue to be had here, it lies elsewhere.

    Statement 2 would require us to get inside the minds of the officers who fired the shots; such information is inaccessible, and must be determined by some measure of probability, which leads us directly to question 3. For the sake of argument, I will assume that statement 2 is false—i.e., the officers did not reasonably believe there was any immediate threat.

    Statement 3 is not susceptible to a true/false analysis, so I’ll just say that I happen to agree with it. I believe that the highest possible justification is required before the state can exercise its coercive authority over any individual, even a police officer; I see no reason to require a lesser burden of proof in any case where deprivation of life or physical freedom results from an unfavorable verdict. Since absolute certainty is, for all practical purposes, impossible, the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard is the best possible safeguard we have against the state exercising authority without justification.

    So, to recap, if you believe 2 is false, but 3 and 4 are true, then either a) your anger should be directed at the prosecution for botching the case (believe me, I’ve heard more than my share on this end, up to and including conspiracy theories), or b) you should be resigned—bitterly, in this case—to the fact that a system that is maximally protective individual liberties against state authority will occasionally allow a murderer to get away with it. I think Iceberg is right for denouncing our politicians’ blasé postivism, but I also think the process that produced the decision was essentially just, and that the injustice that would result from adjusting the process would outweigh the injustice of this particular decision.

    The most interesting statement, in my opinion, is statement 1. I think it’s self-evident that an individual has the right to defend himself with deadly force against an attacker who is undeniably using/about to use deadly force against him. It’s somewhat more controversial to assert that this right is delegable to professional third parties, but I still think we’re on firm ground here. More controversial still is the idea that there ought to be a single professional enforcement entity, selected by and under the control of a generally elected central authority. Unless we want to risk warring enforcement agencies, I think we have to accept this state of affairs, but I have my doubts that a central enforcement agency can, by right, force itself on individual dissenters.

    If you’re still with me, I think the logic I used to evaluate statement 3 must now be applied to statement 1. “Reasonable belief” may be an appropriate standard to apply to an untrained individual, living under the authority of a central enforcement system, who responds to what appears to be deadly force against him with deadly force of his own; it is wholly inadequate to apply that standard to a trained, professional police corps. In the latter case, the state is exercising its coercive authority, with deprivation of life (or possible deprivation of life) being the outcome. It is perfectly reasonable, in my view, to require officers to believe beyond a reasonable doubt that the individual against whom they are about use deadly force is using or intends to use deadly force on his own. Justifications for failing to hold police to this standard—e.g., that officers would be putting themselves at risk, or that heat of the moment decisions would be picked apart in clinical light of the courtroom—fail to persuade me, although they are not entirely without merit.

    The real outrage over the Bell verdict, in my opinion, is that officers need too little justification before firing their weapons. If we’re going to tinker with the system, we should tinker with in a way that protects the innocent by requiring a heavy burden of justification before any institutional authority may permissibly be applied.

    Sorry for the long post, but this one’s important.

· May 2008 ·

  1. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Rad Geek People’s Daily 2008-05-10 – Cops are here to protect you. (#3):

    […] if they are sued, they are hardly ever arrested for their violence. And even if they are arrested, they are hardly ever convicted. It doesn’t even matter if they as much as confess in open court. With few exceptions, the […]

— 2009 —

  1. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Rad Geek People’s Daily 2009-06-11 – The Police Beat:

    […] head, and he only had, what, about 125 pounds on her? Abbate waived his right to a jury trial, knowing that out-of-control agents of the State have much better chances with a government judge; he was initially charged with 15 different counts, all of which but one were dropped in the course […]

  2. Discussed at waronyou.com

    The Police Beat | War On You: Breaking Alternative News:

    […] head, and he only had, what, about 125 pounds on her? Abbate waived his right to a jury trial, knowing that out-of-control agents of the State have much better chances with a government judge; he was initially charged with 15 different counts, all of which but one were dropped in the course […]

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