Hip Hop Fridays: A Letter To The NYPD by Armstrong Williams
To the New York Police Department:
I'll admit I was a long ways from the Big Apple on November 24, 2006 . I was nowhere near Kalua Cabaret, the seedy strip club where Sean Bell celebrated his bachelor party that night. And I was sound asleep when you fired 50 shots at Bell and his friends the next morning - the day of Bell 's wedding day.
So I'm not blaming you for Bell 's death; I wasn't even there. But the fact is; I can't stop asking myself: Why did they kill Sean Bell?
Did you execute Bell because he was black, or was it because your undercover cop said he heard one of Bell 's buddies might be fetching a gun? Did you fire dozens of bullets at Bell and his buddies because it was a shady part of town, or because their car bumped your officer? Did you stake out this club because it's notorious for criminal behavior, or because you were actually investigating criminal behavior? Were the five officers who fired 50 shots, killed Bell , and wounded others, put on administrative leave because they made mistakes, or because you don't want to be sued? Did you establish a panel to learn what happened that night or keep the story in tow?
This is not just a one-time incident that cost a man his life. It's a continuous culture that costs black men around the country their lives. Or do I need to remind you that the "unarmed Sean Bell, 23, died in a barrage of 50 bullets fired by police outside a Big Apple night club in an incident hauntingly similar to the 41-bullet barrage by New York police that killed unarmed African immigrant Amadou Diallo in 1999" (Philadelphia Tribune)? If that's not enough to open your eyes, then check out the stories of Martin Lee Anderson, Robert Davis, Johnny Gammage, and Rodney King. And when you're done with that, a quick Google search will net dozens of more cases that involve police brutality against black men. Equally as telling is the fact that exhaustive searches and studies reveal that only a fraction of the police brutality, intimidation, or abuse incidents occur against whites in this country.
Those who know me know that I am not consumed with race. I do not believe in reparations for ancestors of slaves. I do not support affirmative action programs and I don't like how the National Football League requires team owners to interview American Blacks when hunting for a new coach. The simple fact is I believe blacks and minorities need to stand on their own two feet and go after their dreams just like other persons in this country. I am also a staunch supporter of police departments and the work they do everyday to keep our country safe and secure. However, incidents like this have forced me to face a grim reality about race and policing in America . There's a reason New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, "I can tell you that it is to me unacceptable or inexplicable how you can have 50-odd shots fired."
Your police department - like many others around the country - has created a culture that consciously or subconsciously targets black men and trains your officers to look at light and dark skin differently. Your culture is one that warns officers to have their weapons drawn around certain types of people, establishments, and neighborhoods. It's a culture that allows your officers to use statistics to predict the future. And most scary of all, your culture forgives - in fact, celebrates - those officers who see a criminal before the crime.
A 1995 United Nations report on racism in America described the excessive use of force by police against minorities and other abusive police misconduct as "one of the most pressing human rights problems facing the United States." A 1998 Amnesty International report noted that all across America "racial bias is a factor in many instances of police brutality."
So, I ask you, what are you doing to eliminate the institutional racism that has infected the New York Police Department? What are you doing to alleviate the "adrenaline" that is used as an excuse by trigger happy cops around the country? What are you doing to reduce excessive force, quell racial profiling, and end police brutality? And then what are you doing to rebuild relationships with the black community, bring minorities into the police force, and create a "security" - not "superiority" - mindset in your department?
Although I'm writing to figure out what you did, I mostly want to know what you will do now. I was wide awake when Sean Bell was laid to rest last week; as his would be wife and children grieved over their permanent loss. I hope you were too.
Armstrong Williams can be contacted via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit him at www.armstrongwilliams.com
Friday, December 15, 2006