Sean Bell's Killers Should Be Fired

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.
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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.

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