Notes from the jumble in my brain …

Nicole Paultre Bell said the verdict made her feel her fiance had been killed a second time.

I keep looking for a response that will make me feel less hunted in my home, less at risk.

Riding the subway yesterday and looking across the aisle at a middle-aged black man sitting next to a young black woman, sitting next to an elderly black man sitting next to an elderly black woman and thinking yes, it could have been any one of us, could still be any one of us.  Hearing a police officer at another bag check in Grand Central ask a young woman if he could search her backpack and thinking sure, you can do what you like, apparently you can even shoot me fifty times and get away with it.

Clearly my sorrow is festering.

Norman Siegel of the ACLU and State Senator Eric Adams are calling for the creation of a state special prosecutor for situations like this.  (Adams is a former NYPD officer, one of the founders of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care.)  They say that prosecutors have trouble mounting strong cases in these circumstances because they work so closely with the police and rely on the police for every other case they prosecute — to investigate crimes, to get access to witnesses, etc.  Siegel and Adams say that when DAs have to prosecute cops, it means ‘turning on’ their partners.

The Urban League is pushing for a federal civil rights case against the officers.

According to Judge Cooperman, the prosecutors didn’t present enough evidence for convictions.  He said witness testimony was inconsitent.  Meanwhile police testimony was inconsistent and contraditory, and he had no problem believing the version of the story that would lead to acquittal.

Speaking specifically of Sean Bell’s friends — the two men in the car with Bell, the two men who were also shot, one of whom still has four bullets in his body — Judge Copperman said their “demeanor” and “rap sheets” had the effect of “eviscerating their credibility.”  He had trouble with Guzman and Benefield’s ‘demeanor’ during the trial?  Really?  Because they were maybe angry or upset on the stand or distrustful of the justice system in light of previous cases and their own experiences with the police up to and including the night they were shot and their friend was killed?  Could any of that have contributed to their demeanor?  (Or maybe the judge was influenced by the way Joseph Guzman was described over and over again: a ‘hulking, giant of a man.’  Spectre of Bigger Thomas, anyone?)  Does any of that mean their accounts of what happened had less value, less veracity than the officers?  And their ‘rap sheets’ are a mark against them when they are the victims?   Because they had committed crimes in the past, their descriptions of the shooting weren’t credible?  Or maybe the fact that they had rap sheets means that the officers — who had no idea who any of the men were before the shooting — were justified in shooting because, you know, now we can see that the victims had criminal histories?  I remember in the early days after the shooting, one of the first things we were told was that Guzman and Benefield had had prior run-ins with the law.  As if that made it all ok, as if that would make us all sit down and say, “Oh, well then no wonder you shot them.”

∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞

Oh, it’s still not getting me anywhere.  The pain in my chest doesn’t lessen.  It’s been good for me to write all of this over the last couple of days, to ‘say it out loud,’ as it were.  I’ve still got a lot of figuring out to do, but I still need to find the thing to do to help me take back some power.

Hughes in my head

I had planned to post a different poem tonight, but it seems that Langston is my soundtrack for another day.  Here’s another one of those “I’ve always loved this poem” poems.  It’s one that has feels melancholy, and that’s more than fitting.

Langston Hughes

Sometimes a crumb falls
From the tables of joy,
Sometimes a bone
Is flung.

To some people
Love is given.
To others
Only heaven.


Of course, I want this wave of sadness to pass. At the same time, I don’t want to hurry it on its way.  I want it to burn some clarity into my brain, give me an idea of something I can actually do in the wake of this.  Not that I’ve never done anything in the past.  I marched for Diallo, out in the street with thousands of others (“How many shots? Forty-one! Should have been none!).  I’ve written letters and stood outside courthouses and City Hall in support.    When the verdicts came for the officers in the Diallo shooting, I wasn’t surprised, but neither was I as deflated and sick at heart as I’m feeling now.  And I want my frustrated sorrow to be productive, to elucidate, to point me in a clear direction.  So I wait.

I can’t put this down.

I’m still so body-slammed by the Bell verdict. 

I really wasn’t surprised, but it hurt my heart so much more than I expected it to.  I mean, how much more obvious could it have been that there was culpability on the part of those officers?  I — foolishly, it turns out — was so sure that in this case we’d see a different end.  The officers shot fifty times into that car … one officer emptied his weapon, reloaded and kept on firing … a young man was dead when he had done nothing more criminal than choose to go to a strip club for his bachelor party.

On the way home last night, I saw three cops by the token booth at the Pacific Street entrance to the Atlantic Avenue station searching the bags of two young African American men (the bag checks are a random search thing the NYPD does to ensure terrorists aren’t getting onto the trains) … and maybe that wouldn’t have been so wrong-headed on another day … or if I’d ever seen them searching the bag of a white person (mostly I see them searching ‘Arab-looking’ men and once a pretty, young Latina who was trying to manage a folded stroller in one hand and a fiesty toddler with the other — not sure how she was managing the leering officer who stood much too close to her while his buddy checked her bag) … mabye it would have seemed less insensitive if they handn’t been joking with each other and laughing about something, and if it hadn’t been today — while they searched two brown-skinned boys after three of their brothers in blue had been acquitted of murdering another brown-skinned boy.

And I’m so offended that, while the now-acquitted officers had been drinking in the club (part of how they maintained their cover … the NYPD allows officers to have two drinks in such situations), it was never made clear how much they’d had to drink and their blood alcohol level was never measured.  Meanwhile, Sean Bell — the dead man — had his blood alcohol level tested, and it was much publicized and even made to seem an important part of the case during the trial procedings.  Because maybe the fact that he’d had too much to drink at his bachelor party justifies three police officers firing fifty times into his car?  Because maybe if he had somehow survived he’d have been arrested for DUI?  Because maybe it’s ok to slander the innocent dead guy so we can see the shooter cops walk?

 Oh, I have to stop.  There are too many things I could rail against.  The end result would be the same.  And I would still be left with this hopelessness.

Poetry for this day

I’m still struggling with this day, with the Bell verdict, with the desire to just sit down and cry … which I managed not to do all day at work, but gave into as soon as I walked in the door tonight (and then had to push it back because my friend from the pet store was on his way over to deliver next month’s supplies for the boys).  I’m really not sure what to do with the despair I’m feeling right now, what to do that will make me feel less impotent, less marginalized, less erased and disenfranchised.

I’ve gotten interested in the tanka form after my week of poetry, and have been trying to work with it a little.  On the way home, I tried and came up with:

Tanka for Sean Bell

The verdict came down
my heart so full I lost speech.
Around me, people:
laughing, talking, their hearts free
I sink into my sadness.

I wish it was a little more … something. Yes, a little more good, but I’m giving myself a pass in the quality department today.

Then I remembered Langston Hughes’ “Puzzled,” a poem that touches a little on the frustration and anger I’m feeling tonight, on the sadness and hopelessness and confusion.


Here on the edge of hell
Stands Harlem —
Remembering the old lies,
The old kicks in the back,
The old be patient,
They told us before.

Sure, we remember.
Now, when the man at the corner store
Says sugar’s gone up another two cents,
And bread one,
And there’s a new tax on cigarettes —
We remember the job we never had,
Never could get,
And can’t have now
Because we’re colored.

So we stand here
On the edge of hell
In Harlem
And look out on the world
And wonder
What we’re gonna do
In the face of
What we remember.

He’s always going to be more articulate that I am.  The poem isn’t exactly where I’m feeling … but it is, too. And then you get to the end and it’s all right there.  Thank you, Langston, for having the words I wasn’t finding.


What more, really, is there for me to say?  This is beyond depressing.

You can read about it at The Root and Feministe and CNN.

I’m not surprised. Really not. But I so wanted to be. I wanted this judge to shock me by making a decision that would show that this wasn’t just business as usual, that we weren’t going to see another case like all the other cases where innocent black men are gunned down by the police and the police are found not guilty.

And yes, I know two of the officers were black and latino.   That somehow makes Sean Bell’s death ok?  Somehow proves that his death had nothing to do with the color of his skin?

I started this day in such a good mood, and now I’m utterly demoralized.  How do I live here?  How do I make a life in a place where I have so little value?