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Feds May Still Act in Bell Case

May 2, 2008

New York, NY - Today marks one week since a New York state judge returned not-guilty verdicts for the three police officers charged in the shooting death of Sean Bell. That outcome has some people asking big questions about the NYPD and the sticky issue of race.

Dr. Delores Jones-Brown of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice says the U.S. Justice Department might still act on the Bell case.

"Perhaps they'll find a civil rights violation. That may be the one thing the community is holding on to, so that they haven't taken to the streets, the way that some people probably would like to."

The police union was among those saying the court did the right thing by deciding that the case was a tragic mistake rather than a crime. Critics of that stance say the shooting seems to be part of a bigger problem, with a recent study by ColorLines magazine finding that two out of three people fired upon by police in New York City are black. The magazine is published by the Applied Research Center, a public policy institute dedicated to advancing racial justice.

Dr. Avis Jones-DeWeever with the National Council of Negro Women says it's hard to reconcile a black athlete like Michael Vick doing five years in prison for harming dogs with New York police officers who aren't jailed for shooting Sean Bell.

"It could have happened to me; it could have happened to my father; it could have happened to my son. One feels as if the police officers who are supposed to be there to protect and serve oftentimes are there, just maybe, to protect and serve their own personal well-being at the expense of the lives of others."

Dr. Delores Jones-Brown says the Bell case is an opportunity for the Justice Department to send a message about how police officers do their jobs, particularly in beleaguered neighborhoods and high-crime areas.

"The only way you can get police officers to be more careful is to punish at least one person for an excess, and I think this is the ideal case where we have a clear case of excess."

Study information is available online at www.colorlines.com.

Michael Clifford/Chris Thomas, Public News Service - NY