Despite arriving at the courthouse at 7:10 a.m., and being close to the front of the line, I didn’t get in. No one did. No one who wasn’t either a police officer, a member of the press (and not even they all were allowed in; apparently, if they had a colleague inside as no two reporters from the same media outlet were admitted), or a family member or friend of someone on one of the sides. It really annoys me because I have been there every single day — more than I can say for most of the press — and one of the most disturbing things about this case is how absolutely deficient the press coverage has been. Most reporters go for the flash, for the sensationalistic, without bothering give their readers or viewers the nuances of the testimony or anything even approaching in-depth analysis.
So, I really would have liked to have heard for myself what exactly Justice Cooperman said. The best coverage of the case has been by Michael Wilson of the Times, so according to him, Cooperman gave a brief recounting of the events of the early morning of November 25th, then said he found the three detectives not guilty of all counts on grounds that the People’s witnesses’ testimonies was unclear, confusing and conflicted with each other, and that, from the perspective of the officers, they reasonably believed deadly force was about to be used against them and so were justified in firing. It’s not clear from Wilson’s report whether the judge went into any detail in his verdict on the reckless endangerment counts for all of the bullets that pierced cars, a fence, a home window, and a crowded Air Train station.
About ten or so minutes after 9, a reporter came running out of the courthouse, down the steps. I knew this meant he had the verdict. We all waited silently while he gave the word to a spokesperson who shouted out to the crowd, “Not guilty of all counts.”
People immediately began chanting “fuck the police.” A woman cried. Another woman screamed, “not guilty of anything? Nothing?” But the crowd didn’t get out of control. A man was very angry at our new Governor Patterson for appearing to be more interested in talking to the press about his sex life than serious racial issues, and was disappointed that neither he nor Mayor Bloomberg were at the courthouse. Another man said he believed the mayor was in cohoots with Cooperman as evidenced by all of the talk about increased police presence in Queens and throughout New York following the verdict. Mayor Bloomberg, he concluded, must have known what the verdict would be. He also said he couldn’t believe black attorneys were representing the detectives:”That just shouldn’t be; it’s just wrong.”
Another man told a reporter he was there because this could have happened to his son, now 12. He came out to “let society know, let Bell’s family know we feel your pain.” That same man later turned around and throwing up his hands, exclaimed to a fellow bystander, “look, people can’t leave because they can’t believe it. What are we all going to go out and do? We got nothing left. We’re Americans; we were born here and we got no rights.”
A large crowd converged around the Bell group — which included Guzman, Jean Nelson, Johnell Hankerson, and others — as they left, but I was too far away to hear if anything was said.
As I was returning to the subway, I saw a man lying in the street, surrounded by all of two people. One woman was trying to pull him up. He looked injured. There seemed to be about a million police officers around, but no one helped the man. And the police formed a human barricade blocking the street from the sidewalk, so passersby couldn’t go out and help him. I watched though as he eventually got up, dusted himself off, and with the help of the woman, walked on. I just saw him on the news in a crowd of people appearing to be shoved around.
A group from Sean Bell’s church walked up and down the sidewalk singing a hymnal.
A lot of people were yelling at the uniformed officers guarding the courthouse, picking out black and Latino officers and calling them “sell-outs.” Apparently one of the officers gave a dirty look to one man, which really set the man off. “Who the hell do you think you are, giving me that look? You got some damn nerve,” he yelled. One man told a ruddy-complected white officer he was going to get skin cancer if he spent any more time out in the sun like this. The officer just smiled and shook his head.
A very young white man came up to me and handed me a copy of a newspaper called “Challenge,” which the subtitle says is “the revolutionary Communist newspaper of the Progressive Labor Party.” He told me he was saddened that there seemed to be more press people there than organizers for change. “I can’t believe the low turnout. Only the Black Panthers are here,” he said.