Last week a judge acquitted the three NYPD officers who fired 50 shots into an unarmed man, Sean Bell, outside a Queens nightclub in 2006. Over the weekend, the New York Times ran a story about how some black New Yorkers "saw the case through a prism not of race, but of police conduct." The article quotes a few different people who say this is different than other high-profile cases of police violence against unarmed black men, such as when cops fired 41 shots at an unarmed Amadou Diallo as he stood in his doorway in 1999. This isn't Giuliani's New York any more, they say, things are different now.
Here's Ta-Nehisi Coates reacting to the Times article:
I make no brief for the cops in the Sean Bell case here, but we have to acknowledge that, as tragic this was, as stupid and incredibly incompetent as the cops behaved, this isn't the same town, and this isn't the same sort of incident. But that doesn't mean that there is no price to be paid. I just wonder--as the judge argued--whether the court was the place to deal with that.
Then there's the fact that two of the three officers involved in the shooting are black men. I'll defer to dnA on this one:
I'm sure there are more than a few people out there who would argue that black officers pulling the trigger proves that the incident wasn't racially motivated.
Sadly, that's just not the case
The racist attitudes of a police department can and do affect black officers almost as much as they do white officers. The reason for that doesn't really have anything to do with self-hatred on the part of the black officers, or at least in many cases I don't think it does. The fundamental root of the issue isn't so much a departmental policy that says that white people are good and black people are bad as it is a departmental policy that says that young black males are a problem to be contained. A threat to be aware of, and to be neutralized if necessary.
Of course, I'm speaking as a white woman who doesn't live in New York, but this seems spot-on to me. Yeah, the NYPD may have undergone some changes since the Giuliani years. Yeah, two of the three cops were black. But the Sean Bell and Amadou Diallo cases don't seem to be worlds apart.
UPDATE: Kai Wright has more.