Ron Rosenbaum, Writer

April 25, 2008

The Bell Verdict and the Tragic Folly of Vice Squads

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 10:29 am

Whatever you think of the not-guilty verdict this morning–the acquittal of the NYPD cops who shot and killed Sean Bell during a street fracas after a strip club bachelor party–the shooting was a tragedy. An unnecesssary tragedy. And there is a guilty party.

The guilty party is the tragic stupidity of wasting law enforcement resources, endangering law enforcement lives by forcing cops to enforce antiquated vice laws. In a city that is the world’s number one target for terrorism personnel, funds and lives are squandered on expensive, provocative and dangerous laws designed to keep strip clubs sex and drug free. And New Yorkers are supposed to be smart!

Even if you’re not a libertarian on such matters (as I am) those cops would not have had to be there, those bullets would not have been fired, that bachelor party wouldn’t have turned bloody and fatal if the police department didn’t task undercover cops with infiltrating strip clubs, making like they’re a den of evil rather than vice there’s a difference).

Mayor Bloomberg who initially tut-tutted over the number of shots fired is abandoning his responsibility if he doesn’t go deeper than that, and order his police commissioner to re examine the priorities in enforcement. Vice squads, buy and bust operations, belong to the 19th century. They cost money and they cost lives. If he’s such a brave independent, cost-conscious fellow as he’s always telling us he is, Bloom-berg should pay NYPD cops more (starting salary 25K!) and make sure the money’s spent on non stupid priorities. Giving us more security (hint: the ports) rather than unattainable sterility.

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13 Comments »

  1. We been covering Sean Bell’s case over at Highbrid Nation from the start and when I read today that the police officers were acquitted I was in serious disbelief. An unarmed man was shot 50 times and the people who did it are not responsible at all!? That’s crazy.

    Comment by Mike Belgrove — April 25, 2008 @ 11:15 am | Reply

  2. And can we set a goal of reducing our prison population by at least half in the next…5?,10? years?

    We can start with the mistitled prostitutes and the misdemeanor outlaws and make sure we free each unharmful, gentle soul misplaced inside a jail.

    Comment by Ace — April 25, 2008 @ 11:21 am | Reply

  3. Brilliant last line.

    Comment by Addie Pray — April 25, 2008 @ 3:36 pm | Reply

  4. “evil rather than vice (there’s a difference).”

    I don’t buy that solely on your assertion. Please elucidate.

    Comment by gus3 — April 26, 2008 @ 12:29 am | Reply

  5. It seems to me that vice laws in general are supported by people who fear that things will lurch out of control. Their nightmare is that a large minority of the public will be seduced by pleasure and shake off all restraints, causing society to fail.

    I don’t know how to argue with folks who have this fantasy. They can’t see that bad laws are causing more horrors than they are preventing.

    For example: we have two and only two choices — we can put the manufacture and distribution of recreational chemicals in the hands of health care professionals, or we can turn the industry over to some of the worst people on earth. We make our choice when we decide whether to forbid use of the drugs.

    Comment by Benson — April 26, 2008 @ 1:06 am | Reply

  6. What is fascinating about the reaction to the Bell verdict is the phenomenon of doubling in the African American community. After all, two of the accused cops were black and one of the defense attorneys openly reminded reporters that he also had defended multiple cop shooters during his career. Doubling is a kind of progression from passing, in that the dual identity is out in the open, if not always openly discussed. Jeremiah Wright’s timely (for him) reemergence on “Bill Moyers” right after doubts have arisen about Barack’s authenticity demonstrates that doubling from an opressed minority perspective (cf. Fanon and Ellison) is about said authenticity turned Janus like inwards towards the tribe and outwards towards the dominant establishment. Can a black man truly be a police officer or a President, emerging singularly as an authority figure, in a double world? Those such as Wright, Al Sharpton and the Clintons, who continually exploit the trap of doubling for peronal advantage assure that the answer remains “No!”

    Comment by charlie finch — April 26, 2008 @ 6:35 pm | Reply

  7. Drug gangs and terrorist organizations are getting closer and closer. If you support legalization of all drugs you have your answer, but at the likely cost of other misery. (Please keep antibiotics under prescription control to limit the development of resistant strains.) But if you don’t, then it makes sense to go after narcotics sales. It makes only a little sense to go after only the dealers, but it makes only a little more sense to go after the trafficers without going after the wholesalers and dealers.

    There’s no doubt that the Bell case was tragic, but why not blame the criminals whom the police are trying to catch?

    As far as the strip clubs: they have their costs, from noise to drunk driving and vomit in the streets. It is reasonable to try to control these.

    I have a mental picture of some malicious practical joker firing off a round or lighting a firecracker somewhere in the hope of triggering a firefight.

    The military now has technology that can tell where the report of a gun came from. If you are going to have enough police together to lay down a fusilade of bullets, perhaps you should have this technology at the scene as well? And, of course, it should be able to pick up noises that might be mistaken for gunshots?

    Comment by njcommuter — April 26, 2008 @ 7:33 pm | Reply

  8. This tragedy has nothing to do with “antiquated vice laws” and everything to do with living your life as a thug or a wannabe thug. In a culture that thinks highly of people who disrespect the law and the people who enforce it, they should be prepared for the eventuality of violence catching up to them, from whatever source. When you use your car as a weapon, you must be prepared for the consequences. I think the number of shots fired was excessive, but if someone is ramming their car into yours, you shoot until they stop.

    Comment by Charlie — April 26, 2008 @ 8:02 pm | Reply

  9. “There is [a] class of colored people who make a business of keeping the troubles, the wrongs and the hardships of the Negro race before the public. Having learned that they are able to make a living out of their troubles, they have grown into the settled habit of advertising their wrongs—partly because they want sympathy, and partly because it pays. Some of these people do not want the Negro to lose his grievances, because they do not want to lose their jobs… There is a certain class of race-problem solvers who don’t want the patient to get well, because as long as the disease holds out they have not only an easy means of making a living, but also an easy medium through which to make themselves prominent before the public.”—Booker T. Washington in his 1911 book, My Larger Education

    Comment by William Rector — April 26, 2008 @ 9:11 pm | Reply

  10. Amen and Amen again.

    Drug and sex enforcement are used as a proxy for violent crime. The theory is, the police will catch a lot of bad ‘uns in the vice net, which is easier than enforcement and prosecution for violent crime.

    Even if it worked it would be problematic; if your aim is to stop violence but you enforce something else to get there, it doesn’t take long to start thinking that the “something else” is your real job.

    Worse, it’s not a good strategy anyway. Too many false positives.

    Comment by Assistant Village Idiot — April 26, 2008 @ 9:59 pm | Reply

  11. This club, however, was the subject of numerous 911 calls. It seems to have had a reputation as a rough place. That is why it attracted police attention.
    http://nymag.com/news/features/44458/

    Comment by Allan — April 26, 2008 @ 10:19 pm | Reply

  12. While the mayor could, perhaps, shift ‘priorities in enforcement, he does have a responsibility to enforce laws, whether antiquated or not. The true responsibility and blame lies with the legislators who refuse to repeal antiquated legislation.

    Comment by clark — April 26, 2008 @ 10:36 pm | Reply

  13. The true responsibility and blame lies with the legislators who refuse to repeal antiquated legislation.
    And with the voters who elect them and who might just like things as they are. If it meets the needs of the voters in the present, is it antiquated or time-tested?

    Comment by njcommuter — April 27, 2008 @ 9:42 pm | Reply


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