It was a disaster that leaves a large swath of the population with the sense that the odds are rigged against them, the cops are out of control, and the courts are no place to look for justice.
It didn't have to be that way.
Sitting in the front row of the courtroom as the verdict was read, I was amazed at how Cooperman gave the case a narrow reading that mentioned the flaws and inconsistencies of the prosecution case, but ignored the gaping holes in the defense version of what happened outside the Kalua that fateful night in 2006.
The detectives' defense depended on the notion that they identified themselves as officers, ordered Bell and his companions to surrender, and reacted when Bell tried to drive away.
But the lieutenant in charge of the operation testified that he never heard his companions ID themselves, and the first outside officers to arrive on the scene testified that they didn't see the detectives wearing badges. Cooperman gave no indication the inconsistencies mattered.
Cooperman also skipped any mention of whether the level of deadly force applied -- dozens of shots fired at unarmed men who committed no crime -- made any difference.
If all three officers on trial had done what Detective Michael Oliver did -- empty their clips, reload and fire again -- nearly 100 bullets would have flown. Would that be considered reckless?
I pray we never have to find out.
The next act in this drama will be a series of demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience, led by the Rev. Al Sharpton. They will be designed to make the whole city feel the deep unease and smoldering anger now felt by the Bell family and its supporters in the civil rights community.
It's not an idle threat. Twenty years ago, in demonstrations called Days of Outrage, Sharpton and a surprisingly small band of nonviolent protesters shut down the Brooklyn Bridge and brought the subway system to a standstill simply by jumping down on the tracks at strategically-selected stations.
A repeat of that campaign -- call them the Cooperman Campaign -- would horribly inconvenience Gotham and draw national attention.
It would also illustrate what George Orwell called "the moral dilemma that is presented to the weak in a world governed by the strong: Break the rules, or perish."
People should not have to paralyze the city to make everyone see that police actions in the Bell case -- whether viewed as a crime or horrible blunder -- cannot be excused as "just one of those things."
In this case, they must.
We have not heard Mayor Bloomberg, Commissioner Raymond Kelly or anyone else lay out a clear, convincing, detailed plan for ensuring there will be no more situations in which undercover officers rush up on unarmed, innocent people and unleash deadly force as if they're in a war zone.
Sharpton and other protesters should nonviolently raise hell until we do. Protest in the face of unacceptable conditions is as patriotic as singing the "Star-Spangled Banner" on the Fourth of July.
And while many will heap scorn and gleeful contempt on demonstrators, the protesters should do what any patriot would if someone tries to drown them out during the national anthem.
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