This post isn’t about dance, but one of my other deep interests: issues of criminal and social justice. There was a lot of talk here yesterday about the Appellate Court decision denying defense attorneys’ requests in the trial of Michael Oliver, Gescard Isnora, and Marc Cooper — police officers charged with the 2006 shooting death of African American man Sean Bell outside of a Queens strip club — to change the venue of the trial on grounds that publicity has made it impossible for the men to receive a fair trial in Queens. I think publicity about the case, though, is so widespread, it would be the same anywhere. I remember when I first heard about the shooting I was sitting in the reception area of a doctor’s office in North Carolina with my mom. The news came over the TV and the room became very quite; everyone just kind of regarded each other in silence. When I got back to my mom’s house, where I was spending Thanksgiving, I checked some of my favorite political blogs, like this one, based nowhere near New York, and which already had posts up about it. There’s been loads of publicity everywhere.
Many believe it was the re-location of the trial of officers who shot Amandou Diallo, from the Bronx to Albany, with a much whiter jury pool, that was responsible for the acquittal of those white detectives. Whether or not that’s true (and not all of the officers charged in the Bell shooting are white), Queens has one of the most ethnically diverse populations in the country, if not the world, being a burrough where many immigrants settle. That’s a lot of combined life experience. Juries in the outer borroughs are neither stupid nor careless; they rarely arrive at hasty verdicts, carefully examinining all evidence and taking time during deliberations, requesting numerous re-readings of charges and testimony. Often a verdict is mixed, with some charges on a single indictment resulting in acquittals, others determinations of guilt. You can tell the jury tried very hard to be fair and consider each charge separately.
I remember seeing an excellent Liz Garbus documentary called The Farm: Angola USA, about a high security prison in Louisiana. One inmate, a black man, was serving a 100-year sentence for raping two white women. The women both freely admitted they could not tell the difference between black people and couldn’t identify him as the rapist, but could state with assuredness that the rapist was black as was the man they identified in a lineup, the only one in handcuffs. There was no forensic evidence tying him to the crime (the film didn’t go into what evidence, if any, there was). The whole audience gasped; no one could believe he was convicted on that. I remember thinking, such a thing would never go down in Brooklyn, in Queens. That’s to say nothing about the various judges who preside over trials, but as for the juries of NYC, I believe in them.