2007-01-26 / Editorial/Opinion

From The Editor's Desk

The Bell Shooting Redux: What Does The Tri-Level Task Force Want?
Commentary By Howard Schwach


Every time I vow to take a sabbatical from writing about the Sean Bell shooting in this space something happens to draw me back to the topic.

What brings me back this time is the "Tri-Level Joint Legislative Task Force" co-chaired by State Senator Malcolm Smith and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. There are 17 members of this fact-finding task force, including such locals as State Senator Shirley Huntley, Congressman Gregory Meeks and City Councilman James Sanders, Jr.

While the task force meeting notice says that its intent is not to investigate the circumstances of the Bell shooting, that it's intent is to "do whatever it can to ensure that tragedies of this nature never happen again," it is clear to me that it is a political witch hunt aimed at getting a pat on the back from black activists while truncating the power of the police to deal with black on black crime.

The task force is asking for testimony from "experts" on what it calls "selected issues." By the way, you can't testify and neither can I. Only those invited to do so can testify before this task force. That makes it easier for the members to control the testimony and to make sure it comes out the way they want it to.

What, you think that the task force doesn't have a preconceived agenda in these hearings. If so, I have a couple of nice bridges you might want to buy cheap.

If you don't believe me, look at the introduction in the Notice of Public Forum the task force sent out.

"{The purpose of the task force is] to bring together members of the community, including clergy, elected officials, law enforcement officials and other community leaders to examine policies and practices…relating to undercover law enforcement that have resulted in too many shootings of unarmed black men in recent years as well as other practices and policies that have undermined community support for law enforcement."

Holy agenda!

It goes on, "When the bullets finally stopped flying in the early morning hours of November 25, Sean Bell, a 23-year-old who was to be married later than day, was dead and his two friends were severely wounded." Nice balance. Nothing about the fact that they were drunk, that they were in a place where crimes including prostitution were on the daily menu, that one of the undercovers overheard a man getting into the car talking about getting a gun to settle a dispute they were in earlier or that their car hit an undercover officer as well as a police van.

In any case, I just can't help commenting on some of the task force's selected issues and the way they are phrased by its leadership.

The material in bold italics comes from the task force. The regular print material is my response.

Some have suggested that the reliance on aggressive policing strategies, which some characterize as "overpolicing" contributed to the Bell tragedy. The fact that the police are undercover and out of uniform may create risks for them and for others. Is there any merit to the argument that a reliance on "special units" made up largely of undercover police create dangerous situations since the public may not know that they are police or may run away or fight when confronted by them?

The task force misses the point. The whole idea is that the criminals don't know that the people they are dealing with are police officers. Do you think that a criminal would sell drugs or guns to a person wearing a police uniform? They are not that stupid, but to make an arrest, the police must make those buys. Therefore, they must be undercover. Take away the undercover units and we would all be drowning in guns and drugs and several hundred more young black men and women would be dead. I have to wonder what world these task force members live in. It certainly is not New York City in 2007.

Many New Yorkers were as shocked by the sheer number of rounds fired at Bell as by the death itself.

Some have argued that the 9 mm semi-automatic used by the police has contributed to the problem, suggesting that a minor confrontation can lead to a high number of rounds discharged in a short time with minimal accuracy. Should the NYPD consider reducing police firepower such as trading the semi-automatic 9 mm police weapon officers currently carry with their 16-round magazines for a modified version of that weapon that fires fewer shots per magazine, as Commissioner Kelly ordered in 2001.

More than ten years ago, a young police officer names Scott Gadell was shot and killed by a drug dealer on Seagirt Boulevard in Edgemere. Gadell had the standard issue .38 caliber pistol that fired six shots before it had to be reloaded while the drug dealer had a 9 mm semi-automatic. Gadell was killed while trying to reload his weapon. The drug dealer simply walked up to him and executed him while he was attempting to put the bullets into his gun. Now, drug dealers commonly use MAC-10's and other high-powered machine pistols. Do we really want the criminals to have better fire power than the cops who are protecting us from them? The only people who would even suggest that move are those more concerned with protecting criminals than they are with law and order. I have searched the web and have not been able to find Kelly's order to do away with the 16-round magazines and the police do not know anything about it. I wonder where that came from.

Does the NYPD adequately reflect the ethnic makeup of the citizens of New York City?

There were five undercover police officers that fired the 50 shots that morning. Two were black, one was Hispanic and the other two were white. You tell me if the shooting had anything to do with race, as the politicians seem to be implying.

If you want to listen to the testimony for yourself, you can show up at the NYU Kimmel Center Operations at 60 Washington Square South in Manhattan at 10 a.m. on Thursday, January 25. You can listen, but you can't talk.

You can, however, send a written statement for the record to the offices of Senator Smith or Congressman Meeks, or you can send it by Emailto trileveltaskforce@gmail. com.

The bottom line, it seems to me, is that these legislators are rushing to judgment, even though they say this has nothing to do with the Sean Bell case.

The Queens DA has started a grand jury proceeding that should reveal just what happened that night. The last thing we need is politicians with an agenda getting involved in the criminal justice system.

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