Herman Bell is the 70-year-old, former Black Panther who was convicted, along with two other men back in 1971, of murdering NYC police officers Joseph Piagentini and Waverly Jones. He received a 25 years to life sentence and became eligible for parole in 2004. Since then he has come up and been rejected for parole seven times. Bell was finally granted parole at the end of March, as a result of new regulations adopted in 2017, that were supposed to create better guidelines for inmates like Bell, who have shown a considerable amount of rehabilitation, remorse, and pose little to no threat to the community.
Bell’s eighth hearing was an important litmus test for whether the parole board, which this year includes five new commissioners, would follow its own guidelines or bend, once again, to the political will of police unions and politicians, who make no secret of their desire to see the aging Black Panther die in a cage. In 2017, parole board administrators brought in new regulations in an attempt to instantiate what should have long been standard practice: basing parole decisions on an evaluation of the inmate’s risk to the public instead of the nature of the crime that led to their incarceration.
Bell has had supporters and detractors from both families. Officer Waverly’s son has supported Bell’s release.
“The fact is Mr. Bell has taken responsibility for his actions, expressed sincere remorse, is 70 years old and has been in prison for 45 years – in this time of increased hate, we need more compassion and forgiveness,” said Robert Boyle, Bell’s attorney, reading a statement on behalf of Waverly Jones Jr.
And while the parole board did what it was supposed to do, the blowback—specifically from law enforcement—has been intense and carries a lot of power. New York City’s Police Commissioner James O’Neill tweeted this out.
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