My thoughts and prayers are with Sean Bell's family, which I have come to know since this tragedy occurred. Through prayer vigils and marches, I have come to admire this family, which has shown grace and dignity in grief's face, teaching us about our own humanity. Our community must continue supporting this family and keep Sean's memory alive.
Last week's verdict should be disappointing to New Yorkers. Justice Arthur Cooperman's decision points to the Queens district attorney's lackluster case. It also indicts the NYPD's procedure.
In the verdict's aftermath, our city must do better. Law enforcement training and management procedures must be reviewed and enforced. We must improve police-community relations and address officers' mentality of confrontation and criminalization. We must recruit the best, educated law enforcement talent, which will require better salaries.
My community has long supported law and order. We appreciate the NYPD's efforts to rid our neighborhoods of crime and guns, but those efforts have taken a back seat to enforcement tactics emphasizing disrespect and intimidation. The deterioration of community-police relations has been ongoing for some time. In 2005, an officer was shot in the leg during a struggle with a suspect in Laurelton Park. In trying to capture the suspect, the police arrested over 180 black men in my community, many who did not fit the suspect's description. My constituents fear their sons, brothers or fathers may become the next Sean Bell.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in his "Where Do we Go from Here?" speech, talked about the need for institutional change where people need to exercise dissatisfaction with the status quo. He spoke of violence's futility in struggling for justice. The reaction to Cooperman's verdict clearly indicated that our community has heeded such advice.
Change must begin with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. If they fail to act, this administration's legacy will be that it refused to address the NYPD's underlying problems, which the Giuliani administration legitimized.
All New Yorkers must ensure that justice is delivered and change occurs. We must demand federal authorities bring a civil rights prosecution of these officers and investigate the NYPD's training procedures and culture. Any federal NYPD funding must be conditional upon the caveat that the NYPD reform its civilian review process and improve its internal accountability system.
In light of this tragedy, we must insure that such a thing never happens again. I refuse to despair that we cannot be a better community and city. What remains is whether we will work hard and risk enough to make the changes so Sean Bell's death will not be in vain. We must go beyond demanding justice and seek to implement real change.
©2008 Community News Group
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