The following is a reprint of an article I wrote and published in the Daily Challenge March 23, 2018. In the article, I also related an interview I did with Lisa Rosner of CBS Channel 2, March 15, 2018, supporting the Parole Board’s decision regarding Herman Bell March 14, 2018. I have also included instructions on how you can support the Parole Board’s decision.
March 14, 2018, it was announced that the New York State Parole Board had agreed to grant parole to Herman Bell. This decision kicked up a furor by Patrick Lynch, the president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association; Police Commissioner James O’Neill; and Mayor Bill de Blasio. They angrily denounced the decision. The wife of officer Joseph Piagentini also denounced the decision. They regurgitated how Bell had participated in the killing of two police officers. However, the wife and children of officer Waverly Jones supported the decision. In fact, years ago, they had participated in a news conference in our church, expressing their desire for Bell’s freedom. (As of this writing, I have received only positive reactions.)
In the TV-2 interview, I said that I didn’t know Bell at the time when the officers were killed. I discussed the context in which the incident took place. Young people, in particular, had become disillusioned after the death of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Police brutality was rampant, and the killings of innocent citizens with impunity were highlighted by the killings of children: Ricky Borden, Staten Island (1972); Clifford Glover, Jamaica, Queens (1973); Claude Reese, Brooklyn (1974); and Randolph Evans, Brooklyn (1976), among others.
The FBI’s COINTELPRO, the counterintelligence program initiated by J. Edgar Hoover, the director of the FBI, targeted primarily Black militant organizations and personalities. This activity, however, does not justify the murder of the two officers, or anybody. It’s just to put the incident into the context of history. The young activists felt that they were at war. They joined militant organizations, i.e., the Black Panthers, the Black Liberation Army and the National Black United Front, which I chaired. I pointed out that Bell had done 44 years, been a model prisoner, exerted positive influence on other inmates, especially the youth, and launched programs to help the community, i.e., the Garden Project, where he grew produce that was sold in the community. The money went to charitable organizations.
Moreover, I said, “I am not critical of the family of the officer, but is there a time that we forgive a person who is remorseful and whose behavior and actions have been redemptive?” I referenced South Africa and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that Bishop Desmond Tutu and others implemented to bring peace and reconciliation. They set up a program in which officers would be forgiven if they came forward, confessed, showed signs of remorse or were redemptive or inclined toward some form of reparation. Can you imagine that Steve Biko’s mother had to face his confessing killers?
We need such a program in America. It would be an act consistent with biblical principles. Perhaps, it will go a long way toward reconciliation and a productive relationship between the police and the Black communities.