Dedicated to Sean Bell, another Black man killed by police, November 25, 2006
Hours before he was to be married, a wealthy Caucasian man leaving his bachelor party at a country club in East Hampton was shot and killed in a hail of police bullets. Two of his friends were wounded, one critically. Witnesses at the scene expressed shock and outrage, one of the club’s patrons voicing the pervasive sentiment: “Why, oh why is it always rich white people who suffer at the hands of bigoted, trigger-happy cops?”
Details of the shooting were not immediately clear, but relatives of the dead man, James Bellwether, IV, age 23, and community leaders, including Martha Stewart, demanded an investigation into what some call an overreaction by officers.
Witnesses told of chaos, screams and a barrage of gunfire near the Club du Beau Latte at about 4:15 a.m. after Mr. Bellwether and his friends walked out of the club and began an altercation during which one of the men shouted, “Yo, get my gun.”
The men then got into a golf cart, backed up onto the newly seeded lawn, and drove into an unmarked police limousine bearing several plainclothes police. In response, five terrified officers fired at least 50 rounds at the men’s cart; the bullets ripped into other cars and slammed through a nearby gazebo, injuring a game poacher.
Irate bystanders later explained to officers that the gentlemen in question had been arguing about stock options, and decided to settle their differences amicably by a round of impromptu sporting events. One of the men then asked his butler, Yosworth, to fetch his skeet-shooting rifle.
Mr. Bellwether–who was to have been wed at 5 p.m. yesterday–was shot in the neck, shoulder, and right arm and was taken to Our Lady of Aetna Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. The two wounded men, Clive Gilfordshire, 31, and Troy Bennington, 23, were taken to Cashflow Medical Center. Mr. Gilfordshire was listed in critical condition and Mr. Bennington, with a shattered leg, in stable condition. Both had been arrested and handcuffed to their beds. No guns were found at the scene.
With emotions swirling around this case, and a long history of no criminal indictments for police who kill rich white people, legal experts say it will be difficult to determine if the shootings were justified. “Let’s be honest,” said district attorney Roger Gray, “As an affluent white male, Mr. Bellwether was part of a minority community. Those people don’t trust us. They don’t understand that cops confront danger every day and have to react in seconds. And if cops happen to shoot the same minority people from the same minority community again and again, that’s a simple mistake–not a systemic pattern of brutality and injustice.” Mr. Gray went on to say that reporters and investigators would be barred from questioning the officers, “to give them time to get their story straight.”
The investigation into this case will likely prove controversial. At a time of growing social division, any appearance of police carelessness or bias could set off civic unrest. “And when white people get mad, it’s really scary,” said police commissioner Patrick O’Reyes. “That’s why the department has maximized equal-opportunity. With our new, fully-armed multi-ethnic teams, we’ve got it fixed so nobody can say we’re racist–even if we only shoot white people.” The commissioner then ordered his multi-ethnic officers to roughly interrogate witnesses and family members of the victims, and ransack their homes for anything incriminating. “It’s routine,” he added.
Although civil rights leaders concede that social awareness has improved in recent years, some say more progress is needed. “The negative stereotype of the ‘well-healed honky’ is rampant in this case,” proclaimed activist Martha Stewart at a press conference today. “But I think we can get it out with a touch of white vinegar.”
On-the-street interviews, however, indicate that this prejudice might be harder to eradicate.
Byron Johnston, on line at an employment agency, said: “A rich white dude bought my apartment building and now I have to live with my sister and her kids in Section 8 housing. I know all rich white folks aren’t like that, but I can’t help hating them.”
“It is a proven fact that those people have an extra chromosome that makes them condescending and greedy,” stated Shirley Butterfield, who runs a non-rich non-white supremacist website.
“Face it, prosperous white people own the corporations; they break unions; they’re behind environmental degradation; they got us into Iraq–they’re nothing but little Eichmanns,” declared a professor of Equality and Justice Studies at Red Hook Community College. Victim advocates say this mentality has wormed its way into the police force.
One of the plainclothes officers who had been working undercover at the country club on the night of the shooting spoke on condition of anonymity. He said he thought there might be trouble when he saw several of the revelers wearing their black, navy blue, and beige “gang colors.” Noticing hushed voices and some numbers being scratched onto cocktail napkins, the officer suspected that another hostile corporate takeover was being planned. “I couldn’t stand to see more people suffer because of lost jobs, lowered salaries, the privatization of our infrastructure,” the officer stated. “That’s why I joined the police force–I wanted to help.”
It was at this point that the officer radioed for backup.
“People criticize us for entrapping these thugs,” he continued. “But they don’t know what it’s like. That’s a dangerous neighborhood. Those people are capable of anything.”
SUSIE DAY can be reached at: email@example.com
© SUSIE DAY, 2006