Sean Bell’s second slaying

Sean-Bell-protest-050708-This-whole-damn-system-by-Wm-Farrington, Sean Bell’s second slaying, Archives 1976-2008 News & Views
The acquittal of Sean Bell’s killer cops deeply wounded the young people who marched spontaneously in protest on May 7. Photo – William Farrington.

by Mumia Abu-Jamal

It was a classic “only in America” moment. The bench trial of three killer cops in New York City, charged with firing some 50 shots into a car, killing one man, Sean Bell, and wounding two others, all unarmed.

The case rushed across America, spreading outrage in each city.

Initially, the cops moved to have the trial transferred to a site upstate, to the rural, northern tiers. This motion denied, they opted for a bench trial (or trial by a single judge), not trusting their fates to a so-called jury of “citizens” they are sworn to serve and protect.

Time, it seems, has proven that they made the right decision – for, predictably, the judge acquitted them of all charges, arguing that the witnesses gave conflicting testimony.

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By so doing, the court essentially ruled that Bell’s killing was justified; no crime was committed.

The defense utilized the “bad company” argument: that Bell was shot and killed because he was among “the wrong crowd.”

That such an argument swayed Supreme Court Justice Arthur Cooperman – in New York state, unlike most other states, the trial court is termed the Supreme Court, and the state’s highest court is their Court of Appeals – is a measure of how devalued Black life is and how easy Black men are to demonize and disparage.

If none of the cops knew the men, what does it matter what their backgrounds were? They could’ve been lawyers, basketball stars or … cops.

That they were Black men – even unarmed Black men – was deemed sufficient to unload on them, because in America their color was crime enough.

So, 22-year-old Sean Bell joins Amadou Diallo and others guilty of the capital offense of WWB – Walking While Black.

And while millions of Black and white Americans thrill at political illusions of “post-racialism,” Sean Bell’s case proves how deeply deadly race can still be.

Even rumors of a weapon were enough to unleash 50 shots – or should we say “alleged rumors,” for there were no guns found in Bell’s car. In the past, wallets, candy bars, keys and packs of cigarettes were deemed sufficient to provoke such malicious responses. 

Now, nothing is required.

Sean Bell was shot to death, and his friends, Joseph Guzman and Trent Benerfield, were seriously wounded.

Shot and killed for being “the wrong crowd.”

© Copyright 2008 Mumia Abu-Jamal. Read Mumia’s latest book, “We Want Freedom: A Life in the Black Panther Party,” winner of the 2005 People’s Choice Award, available from South End Press, or (800) 533-8478. Keep updated by reading Action Alerts at and To download Mp3s of Mumia’s commentaries, visit or Encourage the media to publish and broadcast Mumia’s commentaries to inspire progressive movement and help call attention to his case. Send our brotha some love and light at: Mumia Abu-Jamal, AM 8335, SCI-Greene, 175 Progress Dr., Waynesburg PA 15370.