On Thursday, Oct. 3, 2011, I attended a hearing conducted by the NYPD at One Police Plaza in Manhattan, New York . Detectives Michael Oliver and Gescard F. Isnora had to face charges of violating police procedures. Although they were acquitted of criminal charges on April 25, 2008, they had to stand trial in a police court because of violating police regulations.
For 2.5 hours, the prosecutor, Ms. Nancy Slater, argued that Isnora must be removed from the department for his role in initiating the gunfire that resulted in the death of Sean Bell. She recommended that Detective Oliver should receive a 30-day suspension. The defense attorney argued that the suspicious behavior of Sean Bell and his friends provoked Isnora and Oliver. Therefore, they should not be punished.
As I sat in the hearing room listening to the arguments, surrounded by police officers, I could not help but feel a deep sorrow for the Bell family. Once again, they had to sit through days of listening to how Sean was killed and all of the negative things that happened leading up to his death. In addition, I pondered the far-reaching influence of a decision made by one person. In this case, it was Officer Isnora. He was the catalyst. He made a decision to come out of his role as an undercover officer and follow Sean Bell and his friends around the corner from the Club Kalua to Sean’s car. All he had to do was stay undercover. Instead, he fired his weapon, precipitating duplicate actions from other officers. Fifty bullets were fired into the car, killing Bell and wounding a couple of his friends.
Undercover officers should not expose themselves unless it is an emergency. If there are arrests to be made, the undercover officers are supposed to stand aside and let other officers make the arrests or handle altercations. Such a small matter as an electrical charge in the brain of Isnora caused him to make a decision which resulted in the death of Sean Bell, who left behind grieving loved ones.
After the hearing, the news media met us outside of One Police Plaza. Nicole, who was to consummate her marriage vows hours after Sean was killed, spoke eloquently and passionately to the press. She said, “My husband would be alive today. All Detective Isnora had to do was obey his rules and regulations, maintain his undercover role.”
The lawyers, Mr. Michael Hardy and Mr. Sanford Rubenstein, were at the hearing. I returned to the church and began to prepare a press release announcing a press conference for Friday, Nov. 4, 2011. I began to wonder, “Who is killing us more: The police or the community?”
The family and supporters of Brent Duncan, an 18-year-old teenager, who was killed on June 2010 in Brooklyn, New York, met at the 67th Precinct to express their disappointment that the police had not communicated with them regarding Brent’s death.
Ms. Dionne Vincent, the mother of Brent, said, “In addition to the grief of losing my son, I’ve had to bear the pain of knowing that his killer/killers are free.”
I said, “Surely, there should have been, at the least, better communication between the police and this grieving family. After over a year, it seems they ought to have had some leads.”
After the press conference, the family and I met with the police. We arranged a meeting for next week. Since the death of Brent, Ms. Vincent, supporters, and I have created the Brent Duncan Memorial Foundation. We have awarded two scholarships, and held numerous rallies, marches, and fundraisers.
“We intend to keep my son alive by doing good things in his memory. He was a good son. I always want to remember him,” said Ms. Vincent. I echoed Ms. Vincent’s determination to perpetuate the memory of Brent Duncan. I stated, “What we have done with Randolph Evans, a 15-year-old teenager who was killed by the police in November 1976, we would like to do with Brent. In the memory of Randolph, we have given over 300 scholarships to college-bound students since 1979. As these students completed their education and continued onto their careers and made contributions, we believe that the same thing can happen with Brent Duncan’s memory.
The Brent Duncan Memorial Foundation’s meetings are held monthly at The House of the Lord Church. Those who are interested in becoming a part of the effort, please call 718.596.1991.