Monday, April 28, 2008

The Value of Life: The Sean Bell Verdict

Angela Stanley, Research Associate at the Kirwan Institute

In the wake of the acquittal of the three New York City police officers in the shooting of Sean Bell, the issue of race has yet again been thrust into the forefront. This time however, the focus is not on a presidential election; rather, it is about the treatment of people of color in America. Specifically for me, the question is whose lives are considered valuable in the United States?

What we saw happen to Sean Bell is not a new occurrence for New York City or the United States. For those who remember Amadou Diallo, he suffered a similar fate. Acquittal aside, it’s hard to sell the story that shooting an unarmed man 50 times (41 in the case of Diallo) is justifiable and expect every single person—including those of us who are Black and brown—to buy it. Unfortunately, so many of us have heard the story so many times that the ending is no longer a surprise. It’s frustrating, sad, and infuriating even, but one thing it is not is new.

We’ve gotten used to the news coverage of missing White women, while stories of missing women of color go unmentioned. It’s become expected that people of color receive longer sentences for committing the same crimes as their felonious White peers. The double standards, the blind eyes, the inconsistencies, the excessiveness…they have all become themes that, for many, are far too common in the American tale and reinforce the reality that some lives are deemed more valuable than others. Whether or not the verdict was right in the eyes of the law, I hope the humanity in individuals uncovers something different.

Below is an interesting op-ed written by activist Kevin Powell entitled “The Sean Bell Tragedy.” In it he states, “[U]ntil America recognizes the civil and human rights of all its citizens, systemic racism and police misconduct, joined at the hip, will never end. That is, until White sisters and brothers realize they, too, are Sean Bell, this will never end.” Every life is valuable, even when it is a stranger’s or belongs to someone who doesn’t look exactly like you.

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