What if Michael Bell Was Black?

Michael Bell Sr. (center) and his family stand near one of the billboards they bought in a campaign to bring awareness to internal police investigations. Bell's son was shot and killed by police in Kenosha, Wis.
Michael Bell Sr. (center) and his family stand near one of the billboards they bought in a campaign to bring awareness to internal police investigations. Bell’s son was shot and killed by police in Kenosha, Wis.

A recent piece from NPR begs the question: If Michael Bell was black would this have ever happened, Would a new state law ever have been created and passed?

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“Race is at the forefront of the current debate over the police use of deadly force. But one shooting in Wisconsin highlights another factor at play when police shoot civilians — the lack of outside investigation. And the decade-old death has led to real reform in the state.

“Ten years ago, 21-year-old Michael Bell Jr. pulled up to the house where he lived with his mom and sister in Kenosha, Wis., about an hour south of Milwaukee. A police officer who, according to a police report chose to follow Bell after observing his driving, arrived shortly after. A subsequent toxicology report showed that Bell had been drinking that night.

“Dash cam footage from inside the squad car shows Bell exiting the vehicle he was driving, where he was confronted by the officer. The two walked off-camera, where police tried to arrest him. A struggle ensued, and while his mom and sister watched from the house, Bell was shot, point-blank, in the head…

“The Bell family ended up filing a civil suit for wrongful death. Six years later, they received a $1.75 million settlement. But there was no admission of wrongdoing, and the police maintained that Michael Bell Jr. caused his own death.

“The family used the settlement money to fund a grassroots campaign. They took out ads in the New York Times, in USA Today and on radio and created TV commercials…

Bell bought every available billboard in Milwaukee with slogans like: ‘When Police Kill, Should They Judge Themselves?’

“’After we created enough ruckus, the unions ended up sitting down with us and talking with us,’ Bell says. They told him that if he wanted to take the billboards down, they would work with him in crafting some the legislation he sought.

“’I had formulated in my mind what really needed to occur here to make this process better,’ he says.

“The law they put forth would make Wisconsin the first state in the nation to mandate, on the legislative level, that if an officer was involved with a loss of life, that outside investigators must come in and collect the data and investigate that shooting.

“This past April, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker passed the bill into law.”

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Here are some pertinent links: