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Ten years ago, Michael Bell’s 21-year old son was shot and killed by a police officer. It was at that point he understood what the families of victims of police brutality go through. In a column he wrote just after Michael Brown was shot for Politico, he describes the aftermath.

After police in Kenosha, Wis., shot my 21-year-old son to death outside his house ten years ago — and then immediately cleared themselves of all wrongdoing — an African-American man approached me and said: “If they can shoot a white boy like a dog, imagine what we’ve been going through.

Yes, there is good reason to think that many of these unjustifiable homicides by police across the country are racially motivated. But there is a lot more than that going on here. Our country is simply not paying enough attention to the terrible lack of accountability of police departments and the way it affects all of us—regardless of race or ethnicity. Because if a blond-haired, blue-eyed boy — that was my son, Michael — can be shot in the head under a street light with his hands cuffed behind his back, in front of five eyewitnesses (including his mother and sister), and his father was a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who flew in three wars for his country — that’s me — and I still couldn’t get anything done about it, then Joe the plumber and Javier the roofer aren’t going to be able to do anything about it either.

Within 48 hours of his son’s death, Bell got word that the police department had cleared themselves of any wrongdoing. Only after hiring his own private investigators and six years of waiting was the wrongful death suit settled. He used the money he received to continue his campaign to make the police more accountable.

I wanted to change things for everyone else, so no one else would ever have to go through what I did. We did our research: In 129 years since police and fire commissions were created in the state of Wisconsin, we could not find a single ruling by a police department, an inquest or a police commission that a shooting was unjustified. There was one shooting we found, in 2005, that was ruled justified by the department and an inquest, but additional evidence provided by citizens caused the DA to charge the officer. The city of Milwaukee settled with a confidentiality agreement and the facts of that sealed. The officer involved committed suicide.

Initially, outreach to the Governor’s office and the legislature got no response. Bell enlisted the help of Frank Serpico, famous New York City cop, and elected officials started to pay attention. In April 2014, the Governor signed into law the bill that requires a third-party investigation in all police-related deaths. Ten days later, police shot Dontre Hamilton, a mentally-disabled man, who was sleeping on a park bench, 15 times, after the officer failed to follow protocol, leading to an altercation between him and Hamilton.

That officer, Chris Manney has been terminated by the Milwaukee Police Department, however it remains unclear whether he will face any criminal charges.

 

 

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