‘They killed Sean all over again’: Judge’s ruling sparks outrage

WASHINGTONûOutrage. That’s perhaps the best word to describe the mood of the family of the late Sean Bell of New York, grassroots activists and civil rights representatives around the country this week. “On April 25, 2008, they killed Sean all over

He died in a hail of 50 bullets Nov. 26, 2006, the couple’s wedding day. “But, I’m still praying for justice,” she said in the televised press conference. “Because it’s not over yet. It’s far from over.” She was correct.

The next day, she stood alongside New York activist Al Sharpton and led a march and rally protesting the ruling. Then on Sunday, dozens of civil rights leaders gathered to call for public officials to take action against police misuse of force and brutalityûan age old problem in the Black communityûwhich is once again center stage.

This time, the protest is focused on the ruling by Queens State Supreme Court Justice Arthur Cooperman, which cleared the three undercover detectivesûGescard F. Isnora, Michael Oliver and Marc Cooperûon manslaughter and additional charges. The shooting happened near a Queens nightclub, where Bell had just left his bachelor party.

He and two friends – Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield – were found to be unarmed although police claimed they thought someone had moved to pick up a gun. Police said the officers feared for their lives. Guzman and Benefield, both passengers in the vehicle, were seriously wounded. The officers, who were conducting a prostitution sting, said Bell had tried to drive over a detective when they began shooting.

Those in the courtroom last Friday left outraged after the judge said he simply did not find the testimony of the witnesses as being credible, mainly because of their demeanors on the stand. The controversy, yet another in a string of police brutality cases in recent years, appears to be growing.

“The acquittal of New York police officers in the unprovoked murder of unarmed Sean Bell is yet another example of a pattern and practice of excessive force used by police across the nation on Black people,” said Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League and chairman of the Black Leadership Forum, which has a membership of 36 organizations around the country. Morial was speaking at a press conference at the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network headquarters on Sunday, where BLF members, Sharpton and Bell called on Justice Department and Congress to establish laws that with stiff penalties for police brutality.

“The decision in the Sean Bell case was not a miscarriage of justice, but rather an abortion of justice,” Sharpton said. The BLF members said they are poised for action. They said they would send a joint letter to the Justice Department this week calling for a full investigation and requesting a meeting with Attorney General Michael Mukasey.

Lawmakers are looking hard at the case. U. S. Rep. John Conyers Jr., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee said he would also go to the spot where the shooting occurred. Astatement issued by the New York delegation of the Congressional Black Caucus and Chairwoman Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick vowed to remain vigilant on the issue. “We do not accept that this is the end of this case,” it states.

“We have joined with the families and their attorneys in filing a compliant with the U.S. Department of Justice requesting an investigation of violations of the civil rights of Sean Bell, Joseph Guzman, and Trent Benefield.”

The Justice Department announced that its Civil Rights Division, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s New York Field Division will independently review circumstances surrounding the killing. Southern Christian Leadership Conference President Charles Steele, also a BLF member, says he will take the pressure a step further.

“After we get the Justice Department to address this tragedy, we are going to ask New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly to meet with us about the SCLC’s non-violence conflict resolution program to train officers about non violent conflict resolution in order to prevent the deaths of other Black Americans.

This program has worked well in Atlanta, where we are training some 1,700 police officers, and in international markets, where they are seeking peaceful resolutions to end violence. This program has instilled a trust and belief that violence can be eradicated all over the world.” (AP)

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