NEW YORK - Three detectives were acquitted Friday in the 50-shot killing of an unarmed groom-to-be on his wedding day, a case that put the NYPD at the center of another dispute involving allegations of excessive firepower.You see, if you attend a few months of police training and receive a nice, shiny badge, then you effectively become not just above the law, but you become the law. Justice and responsibility for one's actions? Why, that's something best left to the proles. And that reality isn't lost on those most familiar with police brutality:
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."And doesn't that just say it all? The police needn't prove that the man they shot dozens of times on his wedding day was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt -- oh no. Why, they merely had to argue that they were scared that something might happen to them, never mind the fact that none of the men they shot at were armed.
The officers, complaining that pretrial publicity had unfairly painted them as cold-blooded killers, opted to have the judge decide the case rather than a jury.
The judge, Justice Arthur Cooperman, indicated when he delivered the verdict that the officers' version of events was more credible than the victims' version. "The people have not proved beyond a reasonable doubt that each defendant was not justified" in firing, he said.
In effect, the men who were shot at -- and in one case, murdered -- were forced by the court to prove they were innocent, rather than requiring the agents of the State to justify shooting at them without evidence of a crime having been committed. At no point did the police need to demonstrate "beyond a reasonable doubt" that the men posed a dangerous threat, just merely that they felt they could be a threat. That's the difference between having a badge and being a mere serf; what would be murder if perpetrated by you or I is just an unfortunate incident with no repercussion's for New York's finest.
Now, you might think that this case demonstrates that the U.S. criminal justice system is broken beyond repair. Police officers can murder with impunity, while possession of a controlled substance can land you an extended prison sentence -- and in some cases, the death penalty.
The sad fact is the United States is home to the largest prison population in the world -- the vast majority nonviolent drug offenders -- and an African-American male is more likely to be convicted of a felony than to graduate college. And no amount of rationalization on the part of defenders of the State can defend the horrendous human rights violations perpetrated in U.S. prisons, where rape is joked about by officers and prison guards and condoned as a mere added punishment for the deserving.
But to some, namely those who benefit from the status quo, the U.S. criminal justice system is beyond reproach.
The U.S. attorney's office said after the verdict that it had been monitoring the state's prosecution and would conduct an independent review of the case. The Rev. Al Sharpton, who represents Bell's family, called for a federal investigation.Of course it comes as no surprise that Palladino also came to the defense of the four NYC police officers who shot Amadou Diallo 41 times because they mistook his wallet for a gun. As he told the Austin American-Statesman in an October 26, 2003, article on police shootings (which is available on LexisNexis but not online)
"This verdict is one round down, but the fight is far from over," Sharpton said on his radio show. "What we saw in court today was not a miscarriage of justice. Justice didn't miscarry. This was an abortion of justice."
Michael Palladino, president of the Detectives Endowment Association, responded angrily to Sharpton's suggestion that the verdicts were unfair.
"That's despicable for him to say that because we have the greatest criminal justice system on earth," he said.
"They just become political pawns," said Detective Michael Palladino, the organization's executive vice president and the vice president of the Detectives Endowment Association of New York, which closely monitored the trials of the four officers involved in the 1999 incident. "It is gut-wrenching for the officers."Poor guys; the stress of standing trial for murdering unarmed individuals is absolutely gut-wrenching.
Just imagine the stress they would feel if there was actually a chance they would ever be convicted (emphasis on "imagine").