Driving While Black
Was it November 2006 or March 1991? Was it Rodney King all over again? The recent murder of Sean Bell by New York police officers and the Taser shooting of Houston Texans offensive lineman, Fred Weary, have some wondering were the attacks racially motivated.
For African Americans, being the victims of racial profiling is nothing new, but the tactics used by police to justify excessive force against minorities recently hit an all time low as officers attempted to assassinate the character of Sean Bell and Fred Weary, the latest victims of police brutality.
On November 25, 2006, New York City police officers fired 50 shots into a car driven by Sean Bell, 23, hours before he was to marry Nicole Paultre. Police critically wounded passengers Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield in the shooting.
Bell and his friends were celebrating his bachelor party at the Kalua Cabaret, a club under investigation for alleged criminal activities.
According to eyewitness reports, the three men allegedly got into an argument with other patrons at the club and decided to leave the cabaret.
Based on police reports, the undercover officers investigating the atmosphere at the Kalua Cabaret believed they heard someone in Bell’s entourage say they had a gun. Believing they were in imminent danger, police approached Bell’s car to question the three men.
According to one of the victims, Bell, fearing robbery, rammed his car into an unmarked police car in an attempt to get away. The police officers fired 50 shots in response.
Police claimed that they identified themselves as officers when they approached Bell’s car, but the surviving victims say that is not true.
The Police Commissioner admitted that he allowed the officers to have a couple of drinks, but believed they were still fit to perform their duties as officers.
According to the Associated Press, police found Bell drunk at the time of the shooting, which has angered many, including Bell’s family.
“There was no shooting by any of the victims, including Sean Bell. Their judgment one way or another is irrelevant, because they didn’t do anything,” said civil rights leader Al Sharpton.
“The question is, why don’t we have toxicology tests on how much the undercover police were drinking,” Sharpton added.
According to the AP, a lawyer for Bell’s parents called the allegation “another attempt to denigrate the victim of a police murder.”
Also in November 2006, Fred Weary, offensive lineman for the Houston Texans was arrested and shot with a Taser after a traffic stop near Reliant Stadium in Houston.
According to the police report, an officer pulled Weary over because of a missing license plate after following him because he looked “very suspicious.” The police report also stated that Weary pushed away an officer and police Tasered him after he stepped toward an officer after they ordered him to place his hands on the vehicle.
Police recently dropped misdemeanor charges against Weary. Many of his Texans teammates and acquaintances have stated that Weary is not the type of person who would have done anything to warrant this kind of response from a police officer.
“I don’t think it happened the way they said it happened. He didn’t commit any crime. He didn’t deserve to be Tasered twice and didn’t deserve to be arrested,” said Weary’s attorney.
When Los Angeles police officers brutally attacked Rodney King over a decade ago, the entire nation was shocked and appalled at the brutality inflicted upon what seemed to be a helpless victim.
The police justified their violence by saying that they believed King was high on PCP because of his “spaced out” look. Police officers shot King with a Taser but he still managed to get up. The officers responded by beating him over 50 times with a baton before finally arresting him.
Just like in the Bell and Weary case, police justified their excessive force by stating that victims looked suspicious or they thought they heard the victim speak of having a weapon. If police violence is justified by the way one looks, then who is to say the next victim might not be one of us.
Cornelius is a writer for Regal Black Men’s Magazine.