Maybe it’s because I just got back from vacation, and so I’m not feeling especially sunny today anyway, but whenever I read about an unarmed black man getting murdered by NYC cops, my mood quickly darkens and I want to start taking some cues from N.W.A. regarding how to deal with the police.
As is often the case, so far there seems to be a discrepancy between eye-witness accounts and official police statements regarding the events. What is known for sure is that Shem Walker, 49, asked an undercover police officer to get off the stoop outside of his mother’s residence in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn yesterday around 8pm. The cop, who was sitting on the stoop as part of an undercover drug bust operation, refused to move, and a scuffle ensued. At this point in the retelling, accounts start to differ. Walker was seen either punching the officer in the face after yelling “Get off my stoop, or I’ll make you!”, or hitting him with an object. The officer pulled out his gun during this tussle, and Walker was seen either grabbing it or trying to grab it. So, clearly Walker wasn’t acting in a very calm manner, and may have actually assaulted the officer. But there are still important questions that remain unanswered, like did the officer identify himself? At the end of the day, the story ends the same way: Walker was shot dead in the chest by the cop.
Now, this story in itself doesn’t scream “foul play” or “police racism” per se, but the variance of the accounts “raises some serious questions in my mind,” as Brooklyn Councilwoman Letitia James put it. I agree with James. There is simply no way to ignore the long list of questionable murders of minorities by cops in the city. Of course, there was the infamous murder of Amadou Diallo, who was shot 41 times by undercover police as he stood unarmed on the stoop of his apartment building in the Bronx. Sound familiar?
More recently, a group of cops were acquitted on all counts in the trial for the shooting of Sean Bell, who was murdered by undercover police officers after leaving a strip-club in Queens where he had been celebrating his bachelor party the night before his wedding day. The police officers fired over 50 shots, and no gun was found near Bell or his friends.
Or who can forget the officers in Brooklyn this past October who were accused of sodomizing Michael Mineo with a retractable baton near a subway station after they had chased him down for smoking a joint in the park?
When Obama was elected this past fall, we heard a lot of covers of Sam Cooke’s soul classic “A Change is Gonna Come,” all of which seemed to indicate that the “change” had indeed “come.” And believe me, Obama in the White House was a change I did, and still do, believe in. But one cover of the song, recorded by Papoose back in October 2007 and titled “50 shots (Sean Bell Tribute),” right now strikes me as a reminder that though Obama’s election was undoubtedly a historic, huge, momentous victory, “change” may not have come to all arenas of life at all. Or to put it another way, it’s still dangerous to be an unarmed black man around NYC cops. Keep your head up.
Papoose – 50 Shots (Sean Bell Tribute):