As the Intercept points out, the NYPD’s “opinion” on who is and is not an animal carries about as much water as cheese cloth.
A statement from blustering NYCPBA president Patrick Lynch claimed that “to let this animal onto the streets is disgraceful.” (This same union leader blamed Eric Garner for his own death, defends stop and frisk, and has stated that penalties for police misconduct are too harsh.) But the NYCPBA is not campaigning alone: Last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio publicly urged the parole board to reverse its decision.
CBS News reports that the push back also includes the wife of Officer Piagentini, with this message.
“(Bell), and many horrible cop-killers like him, who would have been put to death before it was struck down or would have been given life without parole if they committed the same crimes today, shouldn’t be freed because of coincidental timing. I hear talk of rehabilitation from politicians but I don’t hear talk of murderers being held accountable for their horrible crimes and I never hear even the mention of punishment for their crimes. Herman Bell denied his crime for four decades. Now, to meet parole requirements, he has admitted his role in the sadistic murder of my husband Joe. He should suffer the torment of knowing that he will spend the rest of his natural life in prison for that crime, just as our family has forever been denied the blessings of having Joe with us. That is a punishment that he has earned and he deserves. I implore Governor Cuomo to direct his Parole Board Chairwoman, Tina Stanford, to follow the laws regarding parole and to understand that releasing cop-killers undermines the law, disregards the intentions of the sentencing judge and sends the wrong message to society. Parole may be appropriate for some who have committed crime, but it is not for cold-blooded cop-killers.”
This has led to the New York Supreme Court announcing a halt on Mr. Bell’s release on Thursday.
State Supreme Court in Albany put Herman Bell’s release on hold after the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association filed a lawsuit Wednesday on behalf of Diane Piagentini, widow of one of the slain officers.
PBA lawyers filed motions arguing the three-member parole panel did not consider comments made by the original sentencing judge that Bell, a member of the radical Black Liberation Army, should never get out of prison.
Two out of three panel members voted last month to free Bell.
The theoretical concept behind granting parole to someone who has been incarcerated is that an evaluation has been made that the individual need not be imprisoned anymore. Keeping that person in prison any longer serves no meaningful purpose of punishment, no further deterrent for society at large, and the prisoner’s rehabilitation is at an end. The decision to grant parole is supposed to be one that considers whether or not this individual poses a threat to the public community if they are released. In fact, this should be the primary decision-making box to be checked as imprisoning people is a public safety precaution. But other considerations are whether or not they have shown personal development that leads the parole board to believe they have sufficiently grown away from the person who committed the crime they are in jail in the first place.
Historically, this is not the case. The nature of the crime has almost always been prioritized in the decision making. Racial and class biases can easily erase the perception of meaningful gains in an individual’s rehabilitation back into society. This is not about pointing out how law enforcement, from the highest ranks in our federal government, down to the lowest ranks of the local police forces, targeted, trumped up, and many times murdered black activists and citizens. By most accounts, Bell and his co-defendants tricked these two police officers into an apartment complex with the idea of murdering them. Herman Bell was and is, by our own system, a murderer.
However, our system of parole has a certain set of criteria and Herman Bell passed all of the criteria to be freed from prison. As harsh as it may sound, Herman Bell’s parole is not dependent on the opposing opinions of his victim’s families.
How do we as a country see our laws and the purpose of our systems of justice and rehabilitation? New York State does have a life without the possibility of parole sentence. It is the harshest sentence than can be handed out besides a “death penalty,” and when you consider that there has never been a person convicted and sentenced to life without parole who has ever gotten out of prison—it serves the same purpose as a death sentence. But Mr. Bell was not sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, and after serving a very long time, working to be a better person, showing real remorse, and proving he is a very unlikely candidate for recidivism back into prison, he has been paroled.