What is a life worth?

By Michael Vass | July 28, 2010

A life is generally accepted as being priceless. There is no value that can be attributed to it. That’s the concept. The reality is quite different.

When it comes to the life of a young Black male, especially when police are involved in removing that life, a value is often determined. Often it is several million dollars. As if the vast sum of money will somehow console the family and act as contrition for the loss. Instead it just highlights the absurdity of what is considered the norm of today.

Take for example the $7 million award to the family of Sean Bell. Bell was shot in a blaze of bullets by 4 police officers while he and 2 friends were in their car. It was another example of the “random” murder of an unarmed Black man under circumstances that were at best questionable.

A quick recap of the events are that Sean Bell was at a strip club with his friends celebrating his bachelor party. While in the club words were exchanged with an individual that would turn out to be a police officer. Bell and his friends left the club and went to their car to leave. The officer, on duty for a case that had nothing to do with Bell, followed the men.

At this point, as often happens, the story gets unclear. Police say that the officer identified himself and Bell reacted in a manner that mandated the use of deadly force by 4 policemen firing 50 bullets at the men in the car – killing Bell and severely wounding the other 2 men.

Initial reports from police also stated that a 4th man exited the car, with a gun, and ran from the scene. That man was not seen by witnesses, no bullets from a gun other than the officers were ever found, the mystery gunman was not chased, and the story mysteriously was dropped shortly after the case caught the attention of the media breifly.

The survivors state that they got in their car to go home and prepare for the wedding the next day. A man appeared next to their car brandishing a gun. Bell tried to exit the area, fearing what this individual might be planning. Then bullets started to hit the car from all sides.

When this case came before a jury, the police were absolved of wrong-doing. Not an uncommon result in these situations. But a civil case followed. Again, as is common, the case was settled for the abovementioned $7 million.

If the officers were truly innocent, why was the case settled? Why did the survivors and family get paid millions?

One opinion is that this was not an “accident”. That it is another example of the reaction to the implicit rule in police forces across the nation that the excessive shooting and violence against young Black men is warranted under all circumstances. That large amounts of money are the contrition paid for the murder.

I have asked many times what would happen if this were to happen to White men. Would the officers be absolved if a White unarmed man were shot dozens of times on the eve of his wedding? Would there be acceptance of the weak cover story? Would the media accept that this was a random action of police if it happened year after year? Across the nation?

How many times will this happen before anyone is willing to admit there is a pattern. Rodney King, Amidou Diallo, Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, Robbie Tolan, Adolph Grimes, there are so many names that it would fill a book. Each case follows the same pattern, police with an implicit green light to use excessive force to a degree that ARMED and actively hostile White men virtually never receive (I can only recall one case in L.A. that is the exception). A cover-up that generally involves several versions of a story until one version hits the right tone to absolve the action. Media avoidance of the details of the case. Absolution, or rarely the slightest of judicial punishment. And then a massive payoff in settlement of the civil suit.

All are supposed to be equal under the law, but effectively some are more equal than others. Police are held higher than the unarmed innocent victims of these types of cases – this nationally accepted “rule” – and young Black men are posthumously vindicated with blood money to absolve the failure in the system.

There are many ways to become a millionaire that are promoted to people of color. Being shot in the back, or in a hail of 2 or 3 or more dozen bullets is not one of them. Yet it is proven to be effective, and accepted.

So what is the value of a life? For a young unarmed Black man, whatever it may be while alive, it is definitively millions after being murdered by police. I don’t know what that should be called, but justice is definitely not the word.

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Topics: Black and White, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

One Response to “What is a life worth?”

  1. Chilax Gossip

    Wow :) Nice & entertaining post. Thanks for Share this wonderful post. :)

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