Sean Bell's Killers Should Be Fired

More

I can understand why Sean Bell's killers didn't go to jail. I'm not convinced that a police officer who makes a lethal -- even catastrophic -- mistake should be sent to prison. I'm also not convinced that an officer who's made this sort of catastrophic mistakes should continue in his chosen line of work:


Looking through the side window of Sean Bell's crashed car, the detective grew alarmed as he saw a passenger reach for something. Then the man's arm began to rise toward him. The detective said he surmised there was a gun at the end of that arm.

"I wasn't going to wait for him to pull up, and, 'Boom!' " the detective, Gescard F. Isnora, testified in a trial room at Police Headquarters on Wednesday. "I wasn't going to wait for that. But me firing my weapon was the last thing I wanted to do...." 

"You didn't see him with anything resembling a gun in his hand, correct?" asked Nancy Slater, a police prosecutor who conducted the cross-examination, referring to a passenger, Joseph Guzman. Detective Isnora said that was true. Her next question suggested that he had not seen anything at all in Mr. Guzman's hand. 

 "Correct," the detective said in a weak voice. 
On the eve of his wedding Sean Bell was killed by the police. He was unarmed. He was not guilty of whatever the officers suspected of him. I can think of few qualities more essential to people charged with carrying guns in defense of the state than good judgement. Apparently, judgement is beside the point:

"This should not be getting looked at in the trial room at all," Mr. Lynch said. "The police officer felt that there was a weapon; his and other peoples' lives were in danger. He has an obligation and a right to stop that threat, and that's what he was doing."
A right.  And not simply to not go to jail, but presumably to hit the street and shoot other people who the officer judges as a threat. 

I have no reason to doubt that Officer Isnora when he says he thought members of Sean Bell's party were armed. But he thought wrong. Detective Isnora should be made to explore another career path. 

Being a cop is really hard job. Not everyone is up to it.
Jump to comments
Presented by

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

A Wild Vacation in the Pacific Northwest

A not-so-ordinary road trip, featuring extra-tall art bikes, skateboards, and hand-painted vans


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Video

What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.

Video

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

Video

Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in National

From This Author

Just In