When police officers in Brooklyn fired 50 shots and killed unarmed Sean Bell in November, 2006, Mayor Michael Bloomberg bluntly said the police used excessive force.
“I can tell you that it is to me unacceptable or inexplicable how you can have 50-odd shots fired, but that’s up to the investigation to find out what really happened,” Bloomberg said in the aftermath of that racially charged shooting.
This morning, however, after white officers shot and killed a black off-duty policeman in Harlem in another racially charged shooting, Bloomberg was much more cautious in his language.
“The bottom line is something went horribly wrong,” he said on his weekly radio interview. “It was not a premediated shooting by any means. And what we’ve got to do is move on. Omar Edwards has two kids. All you can do is build a better world for them.”
“Whatever happened wasn’t somebody deliberately trying to kill somebody.and whether procedures were followed or whether we could do better, that’s what commissioner Kelly and the senior staff will study,” Bloomberg said.
“But, you know, the only thing that can come out of this is to improve procedures so perhaps it doesn’t happen again. But, as we all know, policing is a dangerous job, and accidents happen when people have guns in their hands, even legal guns in this case which they are authorized and trained to use.”
“I think it’s easy for people to say how can things happen but when the adrenaline’s running, and you don’t know where the bullets are coming from and you don’t know who that person is on the other side of the street, it’s easy to second guess.”
The off-duty officer, Omar Edwards, spotted someone breaking into his car at 124th and 2nd Avenue and gave chase with his gun drawn, police commissioner Ray Kelly said. He was not wearing a bulletproof vest. A sergeant and two police officers in an unmarked car saw him and made a u-turn and left the car to follow Edwards. One of the officers fired six times, striking Edwards in the chest and left arm.
Two big unanswered questions remain: did the officers identify themselves? And what did Edwards do when the officers approached him?
Bloomberg avoided disclosing any details of the investigation, offering just that “other cops thought he was running and threatening the guy he was chasing.”
The NYPD Patrol Guide, the department bible of policies and regulations, says it’s up to the confronted officer to prove his identity, but the pursuing officers are required to take cover and shout “Police, don’t move.”
The confronted officer is supposed to freeze. The rules tell police not to turn around to face the other cops especially if he is holding a gun.
Bloomberg got praise from black leaders following his remarks on the Sean Bell case. It will be interesting to see what the reaction is in the wake of the Edwards shooting.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, whose offices are not far from the shooting scene, is already calling for a federal investigation. He told the Associated Press that he is “are completely concerned of a growing pattern of black officers being killed with the assumption that they are the criminals.”
“This calls for federal investigation and intervention to sort out the facts and bring about a just resolve,” Sharpton said in a statement. “Can police investigate themselves fairly and impartially? It would seem very difficult at best and unlikely in fact.”