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Another Door Closes in Bell Case

Another Door Closes in Bell Case

It could not have been an easy decision. Nearly two years after Sean Bell died in a hail of bullets in the early hours of the morning outside a seedy strip club in southeast Queens, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has decided that there is insufficient evidence to charge the police with civil rights violations.

Bell died hours before he was to marry Nicole Paultre-Bell. Two of his friends, Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield, were also shot but survived. No doubt they are disappointed by the decision. Led by the Rev. Al Sharpton, they had hoped a federal prosecution based on a violation of Bell’s civil rights would bring them the justice they have been waiting for.

The community was already stunned when three of the five officers were acquitted in a bench trial April 25, 2008. The officers involved in the shooting still face administrative charges, but that will be little consolation for Paultre-Belle, Guzman and Benefield.

The Department of Justice explained, “Under the applicable federal criminal civil rights laws, prosecutors must establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, that a law enforcement officer willfully deprived an individual of a constitutional right, meaning with the deliberate and specific intent to do something the law forbids.”

In other words, there was no evidence the shootings were racially motivated. It is not hard to believe that in the dark early morning hours in that part of southeast Queens an accident happened. The police were there as part of an undercover operation aimed at drug dealers. One of the police officers believed Bell or one of his friends had a gun.

Southeast Queens needs an aggressive police presence. There are too many guns, gangs and drug dealers. Crime has declined throughout the city, but this part of Queens is still not safe. The officers who shot Bell were risking their lives trying to get drugs and guns off the streets.

Throughout this episode, Paultre-Bell has demonstrated dignity and remarkable restraint. She still faces a civil suit against the NYPD. We hope someday soon she will be able to put this tragedy behind her.

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