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Queens blacks seek action on Bell case

With a top official from the office of Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) and Councilmen James Sanders (D-Laurelton) and Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) looking on, several local residents expressed outrage during a town hall meeting in Laurelton that the officers involved in the shooting had not yet been indicted.Many in attendance were also extremely critical of the response from local elected officials to the shooting, arguing that they had not been forceful enough in demanding top police officials be held accountable for what they termed a "culture of disrespect" toward blacks that exists in the Police Department."The vibe out here has been extremely lethargic," said Marquez Claxton, a retired police officer who is now a member of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement that Care. "We're dealing with institutional racism that requires major change."100 Blacks in Law Enforcement began calling for the ouster of Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly shortly after the deadly shooting of Bell on Nov. 25.Monday's meeting was pulled together by District Leader Elmer Blackburne and grew out of weekly meetings that Meeks has hosted to discuss the response to the shooting with local clergy members and civic activists. About 75 residents packed the basement of a church on 223rd Street for what was billed as an opportunity to get the latest information on DA Brown's investigation.Blackburne said Brown declined to attend because a grand jury was recently impaneled in the case. But Jesse Sligh, a top aide to Brown was there, although he provided little specific information."A grand jury has been impaneled and will begin taking testimony in the near future," Sligh said. "We don't know how long it will take and we don't know how many witnesses will be interviewed."Grand jury proceedings are secret and Sligh said he was bound to be overly cautious so as not to create atmosphere in which the case could be moved out of Queens County.The specifics of the case, in fact, were not the focus of Monday's discussion, with most speakers choosing to discuss the relationship between police and residents of minority neighborhoods in southeast Queens and across the city.Neville Mitchell, one of the lawyers representing the Bell family, criticized Blackburne for not inviting Bell's mother and father to Monday's event. Mitchell said Bell's parents had attended the meeting briefly, but walked out. Mitchell said Valerie Bell's 50-day vigil outside the 103rd Precinct continues and that Bell arrives every morning at 4:56 a.m., the time when Bell was pronounced dead on Nov. 25.Reach reporter Craig Giammona by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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