Apr 292008
Authors: Phil Elder

Police departments in small towns are often criticized (by people like me) for completely lacking training, foresight and control of impulsive behavior, framing them as inept, rash and unfit to carry a loaded weapon, let alone a license to kill.

However, our great country reminds us from time to time that this is an unfair judgment to be laid on small town law enforcers. Rather, said conclusion should be applied universally.

In 2006, Sean Bell, a soon to be married 23 year old, was gunned down by New York City police officers outside of a strip club in which he was celebrating his bachelor party.

The officers were investigating prostitution in the strip club and had no previous association with the patrons.

The basic facts of the case outline it as a routine erratic, impulsive police assault, not unlike Rodney King in 1991 or Amadou Diallo in 1999. However, specifics paint a different picture. I would like to review the testimonies of the defendants. By testimonies I mean transcripts of testimonies, since all officers charged refused even to take the stand and defend themselves in front of Bell’s family.

Detective Isnora, one of the two charged with manslaughter, stated that Guzman, Bell’s friend, had yelled “Yo, yo, get my gun!” to Benefield, his other companion.

Immediately thereafter, the officers claimed that Guzman made a furtive movement to reach for his gun on his person. This is a sensible testimony, since when I’m carrying a weapon on myself I often order my friend to run and get it for me.

This is why there are currently four bullets inside Guzman.

Immediately after that, Bell got into his car and allegedly started firing at the officers. Naturally there was no weapon found in the vehicle or on any of the persons.

But, with “glass breaking and bullets flying” the police thought they were under attack.

So they unloaded. Then reloaded. Then unloaded again. One officer immediately unloaded two entire clips on a public street at an unarmed civilian.

Over 50 bullets were discharged by the officers at the three targets, riddling the fiancé to oblivion and severely injuring his companions.

Fifty bullets at three unarmed targets in a public place from detectives investigating completely irrelevant crimes. I would like the reader to let that sentence sink in.

I am not claiming racism. Two of the three detectives were African-American as well, and there is no concrete data to assume that the travesty was racially motivated.

I am claiming ineptitude, jumpiness and a complete lack of self control in a job environment that cannot allow such behavior. Police officers swear to protect citizens from other citizens. But when they cannot control even the simplest of situations, who will protect citizens from police officers?

Pumping 50 rounds into an unarmed, soon to be married young man under the unjustified perception that he was armed and potentially dangerous is unacceptable.

The officers involved should lose their jobs and any right to carry a firearm, since they have proven so adamantly to themselves and America that they are entirely unfit to do so.

Moreover, the shoot first policy of American law enforcement is reminiscent not only of totalitarianism, but barbaric totalitarianism.

As we impose ourselves on the third world as a model of civilized society, a gangland assassination of an innocent man leads one to wonder what right we have to tell other cultures that the American way is the only way.

Phil Elder is a senior political science major. His column appears Wednesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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