Why the Sean Bell Trial Hasn't Exploded (Yet)

Al Sharpton and Protesters
The Rev. Al Sharpton, with supporters and family, outside of the Sean Bell on its first day. Photo: AP

Andrea Peyser needs Al Sharpton's help. The Post columnist has been doing her sneering best to try to pump some racial tension into the trial of three cops accused of murdering Sean Bell. Lately, though, Peyser sounds more frustrated than incendiary: "This was supposed to be a case about racist cops shooting a black man for no good reason," she recently complained. Where is Reverend Sharpton to make an inflammatory stand when you need him?

Disney World, that's where!

Sharpton will be touring the Sunshine State (including Orlando) with his radio show trying to inject himself into the tangled controversy over the misbegotten Florida Democratic primary. For all one might say about the good reverend, he knows where the action is. And it isn't in the Sean Bell courtroom.

The trial surprisingly (and probably fortunately) hasn't produced the kind of polarizing drama that it seemed to promise. Partly that's because the racial lines aren't neatly drawn: All of the unarmed shooting victims were black, but only one of the NYPD defendants is white. But on a larger scale, it comes down to newsroom economics — the trial is competing for space with the riotous presidential election — and sad history: Tragic, fatal police overreactions are now familiar enough that Bell's death isn't as shocking as it might have been had Amadou Diallo, Ousmane Zongo, and others not died before him.

There is, however, still plenty of anger in neighborhoods outside the mainstream media's borders. That's why Sharpton's spring break is strategic on a second level. The Bell case has several more weeks to run. The reverend will be back in plenty of time for the verdict, handed down by a judge who happens to be white. The moment that tests whether New York has truly moved past the old antagonisms won't come until, or if, there's an acquittal. —Chris Smith

Earlier: Chris Smith: Tony Ricco's Racial Politics
Related: A Bad Night at Club Kalua [NYM]