Journal of the People’s Pastor

“Writing The History I’ve Lived, Living The History I Write!”


The Bells Are Still Ringing

On this day, Friday, April 25, 2008, Judge Cooperman had promised to render his decision regarding the guilt or innocence’s of the three police officers who had riddled the car containing Sean Bell, Joe Guzman and Trent Benefield. Sean Bell was killed. The other two wounded. After eight (8) long weeks, finally the day of reckoning had come.

I decided I would jot down my feelings and where I think the decision would land. I searched my heart, mind and experience for direction regarding the court decision.

Hearts desire

My hearts desire tells me that these officers who killed and maimed innocent men should be found guilty of something and would be found guilty of something.

My experience

Born of over sixty years of interacting with the police form Georgia to New York, and 50 years in the ministry, have taught me to believe that these officers would be exonerated. Many cases came to my mind: Claude Reese 14 years old, Brooklyn, Clifford Glover 11years old, Jamaica Queens, Ricky Bowden 11years old, Staten Island, Jay Parker 15, Jamaica Queens, Randy Evans 15 years old, Brooklyn. And there was Arthur Miller, 6/14/78 and Luis Bias, 8/79, Brooklyn. Peter Funchez, Bronx, Michael Griffith, 1986, Brooklyn. And there were women too – Marian Johnson, 1978, St. Johns Place, 1978, and Elizabeth Magnum, 8/79, Brooklyn. Eleanor Bumpers, 1984, Bronx. And then in more recent times – Amadou Diallo, 1999, Patrick Bailey, 1997, Patrick Dorismond, 2000, Timothy Stanberry, 2004, all have three things in common – all black, all killed by the police and no guilty verdict. In some of these cases, I thought that the evidence was so overwhelming that a guilty verdict was inevitable. But the decision, as always, favored the police officers.

My mind

My mind tells me this will be a political decision. Judge Cooperman will give everybody a little something but no body will get everything. It is hard to believe that the judge would not take into account the deep emotions of the community and the obvious excessive firing into the car of unarmed persons. Yet, he must pay respect to the law. He knows his decision will be reviewed intensely and endlessly. And what he does he knows must appear to be fair.

With these thoughts in my mind I hastened to the courthouse. When I arrived, the line was two to three deep stretching over a block. TV trucks lined the streets. Camera- persons, still and television, was in constant motion. They were taking pictures of crowds, individuals, everything. The climate was tense. Policemen were edgy as they sought to keep the crowd back. I arrived at the entrance and immediately asked for a supervisor. I was told to wait at the gate; they would secure a seat for me. The family, Rev. Sharpton and Councilman Charles Barron were already inside. Several officers came to fetch me as people at the gate screamed for admittance.

Police officers lined the hall leading to the courtroom. Inside the courtroom, bodies were jammed together. They were able to squeeze me a seat, as bodies pressed closer together. The judge was already in place. He called the lawyers to the bench for a consultation. When they returned, Judge Cooperman began to read his decision. He recapitulated the scene at the Kalua Club. He emphasized the confrontation between Sean Bell and his party and a stranger standing by a black SUV with his hand in his pocket. He quoted a statement which is alleged to have been made by Joe Guzman, “I’m going to get my gun.” He continued rehearsing the details. He traced the movements of the Bell party to the vehicle in which Bell, Joe Guzman and Trent Benefield entered. The judge recounted the story that Marc Cooper told. He yelled at the moving vehicle to stop. The vehicle continued and hit him, he thought he saw Joe Guzman raise his hand as though he had a gun and he then opened fire. The other two officers, Michael Oliver & Gescard Isnora followed suit. Cooper firing 4 shots, Isnora firing 11 shots and Oliver firing 31 shots. The judge at the outset gave us a hint, which way he was leaning He said that we are concerned with the mind of the police officer and not the mind of the victims. The judge went to great length to underscore what he called inconsistencies in the witnesses’ testimonies. Decorum on the witness stand and the criminal background of the witnesses including those who were shot. Therefore, he concluded, “The state, he said, had fell to meet the burden of proof. The officers therefore are not guilty.”

A deep, deep heavy silence gripped the courtroom. It was as if everyone was stunned. When it had finally sunk in Mrs. Bell fainted, Nicole fell over crying audibly. We moved from the courtroom into a side room. Nicole had to be carried all along the way. Inside the room, Nicole continued sobbing as relatives and friends sought to console her. Mr. & Mrs. Bell had regained a measure of composure. We stood around looking at each other. Some people cried audibly others had tears in their eyes. There were those who continued to shake their heads in disbelief and some cursed. There was anger, sadness and disbelief. The lawyers went to the corner of the room and returned with directions. We would leave the courtroom; go to our cars without making any statements. It was important that we walk with dignity and determination.

We departed the courtroom, walked along the corridor out of the courtroom, down the winding stairs, past the cameras that had been set up in their usual place. The crowd began to push in on the family. Policemen sought to set up a human walking wall. As we turned the corner, the pushing resulted in confrontation. There was a scuffle that broke out but was soon quelled. The Bell family and supporters got into their cars and headed toward the cemetery. There they prayed, they wept and they vowed to continue the struggle.

The next day, Saturday, April 26, 2008, we started at the National Action Network headquarters. Rev. Sharpton had asked me to do the morning devotion on the radio. In my remarks, I recounted my 50 years of witnessing the killings by the people we pay to protect us. While I wanted to identify with the sorrow and emphasize the therapeutic value of crying and weeping, but at the same time, I wanted to sound a high note of hope and dignity. I said, “Our heads are bloody but unbowed. We have lost a scrimmage but we will win the war. Let us keep our heads up high and walk with dignity. Let us keep hope alive. Let us rise to the challenge of turning our pain into power. We are going to win because we are on the right side. We are going to win because God is on our side. Justice will prevail.”

I quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his off reference to a poem. “It does seem that truth is on the scaffold and wrong is on the throne, yet beyond the dim unknown standeth God keeping watch above his own.” I concluded, “So let us walk together. Let us march together. Let us keep on demonstrating and boycotting and going to jail. Let the word go forward, go tell it on the mountain, tell it in the streets that we are determined to win. There may be tears in our eyes but determination is in our hearts. We will win. We will win! After which, Rev. Sharpton spoke and methodologically punched holes into the judge’s reasons for freeing the killer cops. Mr. Bell, Mrs. Bell and Nicole spoke. Nicole said, “When there are marches I will be on the front line.” On Sunday at a 2pm press conference held at the National Action Network, national leaders came to offer their support. Mr. Marc Morial, head of the Urban League and the National Leadership Forum, gave the opening statement and introduced ten other speakers, including representatives from Dorothy Height, Rainbow/PUSH, and the Urban League. He then introduced Congressman Meeks and Congresswoman Yvette Clarke. After they offered their support, Rev. Sharpton was asked to make remarks. Again, he showed the weakness of the judge’s argument and vowed massive action. Then I spoke. Again I recited the history of police killings and emphasized hope and optimism. Mr. Bell rhetorically asked, “Is this Alabama? Am I dreaming? Somebody wake me up. Tell me, is this Alabama?” Nicole again promised she would be at the front line when the marching starts.

It was interesting to note, that when Sharpton asked who was ready to go to jail, practically everybody in the packed auditorium stood up. But what was even more interesting was that the entire Bell family stood up.

In all of my presentations, whenever I have the opportunity, I always underscore the courage, dignity and the commitment of the Bell family. From the beginning, they have been in marches, demonstrations, rallies, prayer vigils and daily they sat in the court.

So we can say not only are the bells still ringing but that the bells will continue to ring until justice roll down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.