The pending parole of the man who killed two cops that are a local school’s namesake has provoked controversy.
A New York State Parole Board’s decision to release Herman Bell, who murdered police officers Joseph Piagentini and Waverly Jones in Harlem in 1971, provoked a strong reaction in the east Bronx, an area that’s home to more than its share of law enforcement members.
The Piagentini and Jones Campus at 650 Hollywood Avenue in Throggs Neck is named in honor of the two slain officers.
Law enforcement officers were pretty much unanimous in their opposition to Bell’s release.
Bell and two accomplices lured the two officers to a Harlem housing project with a phony emergency call.
Bell was a member a group called the Black Liberation Army that carried out acts of violence against members of law enforcement across the country.
Piagentini, the father of two young children, already shot 21 times, begged Bell to spare his life before the killer fired the final, fatal shot.
The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association is looking to block Bell’s release, slated for April, as is Piagentini’s family.
Joe Thompson, 49th Precinct Community Council president, who was a member of the NYPD in 1971 said that the killing had a chilling effect on police officers.
“Every cop was apprehensive and did not know when they were responding to a job if they were going to get killed,” recalled Thompson, adding “my feeling is that this guy should have never been let out of jail; I am pretty adamant about it – he should never see the light of day.”
Thompson believes that life in prison without the possibility of parole, which was not an option when Bell was sentenced, should be mandatory for any cop killer.
“Their plan was just to kill cops,” said Thompson of the BLA. “No profit motive in this, it was just pure hate.”
A high ranking police source with ties to the community said that Bell’s crimes “were about as premeditated as you could get,” and that the parole board’s decision sends an unfortunate message to the graduates of the campus’ schools.
John Marano, a community activist who was a police officer in Harlem decades later, said that he thought it was a sad state of affairs that murdered cops have to be defended.
“Both men had wives and kids and he took their fathers away,” said Marano.
“I’m for giving a person a second chance, but this was an horrendous act,” he said.
In a statement, Senator Jeff Klein and Assemblyman Michael Benedetto, said that brutal ambush style killings sent shock waves through the city, and the two elected officials expressed their disappointment about the board’s decision.
“Herman Bell has no place in our society and like anyone else who takes the life of a police officer, should spend the rest of his life in prison,” the statement read.
Bell does have defenders, including members of the Jones family, some of whom supported his release, according to published reports.
Piagentini and Jones Campus features a display case on the first floor of the building that includes keepsakes from the officers and helps to inform students of the history of their campus’ namesake, stated a NYC Department of Education spokeswoman.