To Serve and Protect

Nov 292006
Authors: Anne Farrell

The long arm of the law has gone too far.

Early Sunday morning, Sean Bell, a 23-year-old groom, was shot and killed the very day he was to be married.

Fifty shots were fired at Bell and his companions as they left a strip club in Queens, N.Y., where the men had been celebrating the upcoming nuptials. Investigations are still ongoing to determine if the officers involved in the incident had used excessive force.

The purpose of law enforcement is to serve and protect, but just who exactly was being protected by these actions?

I find it terribly hard to believe that there is any reason for such extreme measures to be taken against unarmed citizens. Generally I am not the type of person who questions the police. I respect the authority they have and know they do the best they can to protect the citizens they serve. However, in this situation it makes me wonder if the best they can do is really enough.

From what has been released to the public one possibility for this confrontation is that Bell was trying to evade the police and in the process crashed into an unmarked police minivan.

Considering that several of the officers had been in plain clothes at the time of the incident, how could he know who was shooting at him in the first place and why wouldn’t he run at that point?

Organizations such as the COPS Office, a part of the U.S. Department of Justice, promote police integrity in hopes of building trust between police and their communities. In 2003 the COPS office expanded the Creating a Culture of Integrity program to fund four law enforcement agencies in developing large-scale police integrity projects.

Events like this limit the public trust of police agencies and therefore limit their ability to protect the community. Police officers with a “God complex” need to be investigated and stripped of authority to prevent unnecessary confrontations.

Authority should be established through trust, not fear, and police departments need to find ways to hold themselves accountable before extreme events take place.

Possibly the shooting of Sean Bell was a mistake in judgment, but how many mistakes in judgment must happen before something is changed?

Anne Farrell is a junior technical journalism major. Her column appears every Thursday in the Collegian. Replies and feedback can be sent to

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