December 18, 2006

Sean Bell & Peyton Strickland—Compare and Contrast!

For the third but undoubtedly not the final time, Fire on the Mountain turns to the simmering rage in NYC’s Black community about the 50-shot police murder of the unarmed Sean Bell in the early hours of his wedding day, November 25.

Ajamu Dillahunt on his North Carolina-based blog Sankofa Meets the Future has drawn an instructive comparison between the Sean Bell case and another recent police shooting. A young man in Wilmington, NC named Peyton Strickland was killed on December 1 as a heavily-armed police task force followed up a complaint that he had stolen two new Play Stations. Peyton Strickland was killed when Deputy Christopher Long of the New Hanover County Sheriff's Office Emergency Response Team fired his pistol through the front door, even as it was being knocked down by a police battering ram. The unarmed Strickland was hit in the head and shoulder, fatally.

By December 8, just a week after the shooting, Deputy Long was fired from the Sheriff's Office. On December 11, he was indicted on charges of second-degree murder brought before a New Hanover County grand jury by District Attorney Ben David:

After interviews with other law enforcement personnel at the scene, it became clear that Long's perception "was not the belief of others," David said. Long's actions were not "objectively reasonable," David said, even though the ERT had information that the occupants of the house might be armed and dangerous. To obtain a second-degree murder conviction, prosecutors must prove that Long committed an unlawful killing with malice, but not premeditation and deliberation.

Is anyone reading this surprised to learn that Peyton Strickland was white and that his father is a prominent attorney in the Durham area?

I didn’t think so.

In NYC, we have a crime just as egregious being played out as a shell game, with politicians like Bloomberg, police spokespersons and the media shuffling statements of concern, declarations of fealty to the legal process and broad hints about fleeing, gun-toting friends of Sean Bell. Only calculated leaks from within the NYPD have provided any information. One nugget that has come out is that a couple of the killer cops reported that they didn’t know whether they had fired their guns or not! These people are still on the payroll. Feel safer, New Yorkers? The Queens District Attorney can’t tell us when, if ever, a grand jury might be convened or what charges it might consider.

As Ajamu Dillahunt points out:

So what we have in Wilmington is a swift action against a law enforcement officer... in a case that is no more compelling then the deaths of Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo and countless hundreds of other People of Color who are victims of "armies of occupation" in our communities. Clearly Strickland's racial, ethnic and class background have compelled the Sheriff and the District Attorney to move quickly and seriously.
In closing I want to call attention to another important point the first Sankofa Meets the Future piece makes. It cites a local news story on the family’s response:

His father, Durham-area lawyer Don Strickland, said Saturday that he would address Long's firing "at the appropriate time."

"Right now, I'm just going to let the judicial process do its work," Strickland said.

Can anyone reading this imagine the parents of an African American victim of police murder in New York City proclaiming that they’re going to be quiet and let the system work?

I didn’t think so.

As Ajamu Dillahunt sums up:

While he may not be conscious of it, only a sense of White Privilege positions a person to take this approach to such a serious blow to their family. His legal background and experience with the criminal justice system may be responsible for him refraining. In contrast, Black and Latino families, based on a long history of injustice in these kinds of investigations have usually joined communities in speaking out against the atrocity and have often joined the outraged masses in the streets.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Actually, the police officer wasn't indicted. The grand jury foreman came back the next day and said he had mistakenly checked off the wrong box and the jury had not chosen to indict.