Just over a week ago, The New York Parole Board determined that Herman Bell was ready for release. It was Herman’s 8th appearance before the board after being incarcerated for 45 years for the murders of police officers Waverly Jones and Joseph Piagentini. Bell was 25 years old at the time of his conviction and is now 70 years old. The commissioners determined that he had taken full responsibility for his actions and had expressed remorse for his crimes. In reaction to the announcement, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA) has been relentless in campaigning for what would boil down to an administrative override of the Parole Board’s legal outcome. Addressing members of the press summoned on March 15th, PBA president Patrick Lynch responded to the parole board’s decision, threatening that “wherever [Bell] lands, we’ll be watching.” Seeming to promoting vigilante revenge, Lynch addressed Bell through the cameras saying: “We’re gonna get you, we don’t care why you’re behind bars. We just care that you are behind bars.”
Waverly Jones Jr., son of the murdered man Waverly Jones, has declared his support for Bell's release by decision of the Parole Board. His reasons are remarkably dissonant with Lynch’s comments. Jones Jr, has stated that “keeping Mr. Bell in jail after all of these years would serve no purpose other than vengeance.”
Bell’s release embodies a new era of parole practices: reforms that turn away from the practices of terminal removal from society. Reforms such as these must be seen alongside the changes that have lead to the abolition of capital punishment in New York: slow steps to dismantle the dehumanizing systems of incarceration.
Upholding the decision to release Herman Bell is the just thing to do, not only because no person should be forever defined by their worst act, but also because the PBA’s attempt to keep Bell in prison does not make anybody more safe.
A statement and petition in support Herman Bell's release has garnered a large collective of signatories including Andrea Fraser, Glenn Ligon, Judith Butler, Bobbito Garcia, Jamal Joseph, Quinn Latimer, Doug Ashford, David Velasco, Andrew Ross, Andrea Geyer, Avery Gordon, Sondra Perry, Jennifer Krasinski, Kevin Beasley, Shelly Silver, Iman Issa, Mariam Ghani, Russel Banks, Pete Brook and many others. You can sign the Statement of Support for Parole Board Determination in regards to Herman Bell here.
If you are the New York City area, there will be a press conference held by coalition of advocates, public officials, artists, formerly incarcerated people, and crime survivors to call on Governor Cuomo and the New York State Parole Board to stand by their decision to release Herman Bell today, March 23, at 1:30 pm at the Center for Constitutional Rights, 666 Broadway, 7th Floor. RSVP here.