Monsignor Harry J. Byrne, JCD * * * Comment/

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Location: 3103 Arlington Avenue,, Bronx, NY 10463, United States

April 29, 2008


At 4 AM on November 25, 2006, Sean Bell died in a fusillade of 50 police bullets outside the Club Kalua, a strip joint in Queens. He was to be married later that day. In the confusion of police erroneously fearing a gun on the scene and Bell driving his car into a police van, the officers opened fire. Two of the police officers were African-Americans; one was white.

The attention of the city was drawn to the eight week trial of the three officers, charged with manslaughter,assault, and reckless endangerment. The officers had chosen to be tried by a judge rather than by a jury. State Supreme Court Justice Arthur Kooperman, chosen on a tournus, it was said, declared on April 25, 2008 in his decision acquiting all three officers of all charges, "The police response with respect to each defendant was not proved to be criminal, i.e. beyond a reasonable doubt. Questions of carelessness and incompetence must be left to other forums."

A news commentator showed his lack of understanding of true judicial process, when he expressed surprise at the wholesale acquitals, saying he thought each side should have come away with something. In his decision, Judge Kooperman saw it otherwise: "As the trier of fact, this court must determine what the facts are, apply those facts to the applicable law, and render a verdict." Mayor Michael Bloomberg was largely responsible for the calm following the verdict by his statement:"There are no winners in a trial like this. An innocent man lost his life, a bride lost her groom, two daughters lost their father, and a mother and a father lost a son. No verdict could ever end the grief that those who knew and loved Sean Bell suffer." Mayor Bloomberg visited Bell's fiancee, his two companions, and Al

On Monday, April 28, Dominic Carter of NY One's "Inside City Hall" presented a remarkable interview program. His guests were Nicole Paultre Bell, Sean's fiancee who took his name, Joseph Guzman and Trent Benenfield, Sean's companions, and the Reverend Al Sharpton. Anchorman Carter, who seemed emotionally moved by the occasion, seemed to bring out the best in his interviewees. The attractive Nicole showed great strength in expressing her love for Sean, in his loss, and her determination to seek further justice. Detective Cooper, fighting back tears, had made a statement after the verdict: "I'd like to say I'm sorry to the Bell family for this tragedy. I'd like to thank my Lord and Savior for today. This is the start of my life back." Asked if she accepted Cooper's apology, Nicole said that she did, as did Trent Benenfield. Guzman's response was difficult to understand, in his obvious distraught bewilderment at the loss of his friend. The Reverend Sharpton was the most agitated. He proclaimed forthcoming marches but stressed that there would be no violence. He pointed out that, despite widespread anger after the verdict, not a window was broken; not a rock was thrown but there would be civil disobedience and demonstrations; there would be no violence.

Our city has experienced a somber ordeal. A young life lost, the dashed hopes of his intended bride, his parents and friends devastated! Three police officers, trying to serve the city and its people, thrust into a lethal mix of circumstances, find a life lost, their lives and careers forever changed.

De profundis, Domine, clamavi!

But there are glimmers of light amid the shadows: the voices of the judge and of the mayor, of Detective Cooper's apology, of Nicole's acceptance of it, and in the words of former Mayor Ed Koch, "the new Al Sharpton".

ADDENDUM May 3: Last night on NYOne's "Inside City Hall", Dominic Carter presented an interview program, a sequel to the one described above. The parents of Sean Bell described their loss and the pain of the judge's decision. The father said he was asked to go to his son's party, but had declined. He changed his mind, thinking that his son really wanted him to be there. Accordingly, the father dropped in at the Kalua Club for about fifteen minutes and then left. The call then came about the "accident" and Sean's death. The parents went to the hospital. They had to wait six hours before they were permitted to see their dead son. They found the dead body still in handcuffs! The father described the preparations that had been made for the wedding to take place later that day. He said he was to be his son's best man. "I always stood by my son", he said,"and I looked forward to the ceremony. To find him dead and in handcuffs. It was too much". The father spoke with great dignity. Sean's mother added further poignancy by her mention of her son, dead and in handcuffs. She said she and her husband had "made" Sean. He was part of them. Her strength in this ordeal, she declared, came from her connection with her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. She said she accepted Detective Cooper's apology, as her daughter-in-law had done. Cooper was the only one of the three detectives to have apologized. Her husband, again with great dignity and strength of presence, declined to accept the apology. He said it was nice of Cooper to say that but it was too late!


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