New Yorkers are shocked and outraged following the acquittal of three police officers who shot and killed an unarmed man, Sean Bell, and wounded two of his friends as they left a bachelor party at a strip club on the morning of Bell’s wedding in November 2006.
During a meeting held Sunday at Sharpton’s Harlem headquarters, Rev. Lennox Yearwood of the Hip Hop Caucus called for action, saying, “This is our lunch-counter moment for the 21st century. … Their Emmit Till is now our Sean Bell. … We must rise up now.”
Sharpton has pledged to “shut this city down,” and the first of a wave of planned protests against the verdict did take place on Sunday. According to the New York Post, “Angry demonstrators blocked Harlem traffic today to protest the Sean Bell verdict in the first step of what community activists billed as a wave of civic disruptions aimed at shutting down New York.” Further protests may be targeted at downtown tourist areas.
Sharpton also revealed at the Sunday meeting that Bell’s fiancee has received hate emails and taunting phone calls that may have come from the Sergeants Benevolent Association. That group’s president has denied that his staff made the calls.
Sharpton and National Urban League President Marc Morial are have been pressing the federal government to take action since the verdict was announced on Friday. They immediately issued a statement (pdf) urging the Department of Justice to prosecute the officers under federal civil rights laws. They also intend to request a meeting with Attorney General Michael Mukasey to press the issue.
Other civil rights activists are urging action by New York State. At a press conference on Sunday, attorney Norman Siegel raised questions about the handling of the case for the prosecution by the Queens district attorney. He and the founders of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care are proposing that a permanent independent state special prosecutor be appointed to handle cases of alleged police brutality and corruption. Governor David Paterson has stated that he will review their suggestions.
This video is from The Associated Press, broadcast April 28, 2008.