Bell verdict sparks quiet anger

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The head of the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee flew to southeast Queens this week in response to Friday's exoneration of the three detectives on trial for the shooting death of Sean Bell as residents across the borough remained calm and waited for specifics of a mass public demonstration against the verdict.

Rev. Al Sharpton, who held a summit with union leaders and elected officials in Manhattan Tuesday night, said details of his plans for an orchestrated protest would be unveiled by Thursday and enacted within the next two weeks.

He said the plan would include civil disobedience, boycotts and a "march on the federal justice system."

"I think its important that the plan is for both the short term and long term when it comes to our goals," Sharpton said after the meeting.

U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) flew in from Detroit to Jamaica Monday to meet with city leaders, Bell's family and Sharpton at the offices of U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) to discusses the process of possibly trying Detectives Michael Oliver, Gescard Isnora and Marc Cooper on federal civil rights violations.

Following an hour-long, closed-door meeting with the group, Conyers told reporters he supported Sharpton's call for non-violent protests against Queens Supreme Court Justice Arthur Cooperman's not-guilty verdict.

"This is an important period in the history of the criminal justice system in America. What I want to do is make sure we continue with the non-violent protest for a better justice system," he said.

The congressman told the press that several of his Washington peers, including U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), who joined the meeting via telephone, supported the Richmond Hill native's family in their quest for justice. Conyers said his committee and the U.S. attorney general were reviewing the case thoroughly and he promised he would work hard to take it to a higher level.

"We will do our own job to make sure justice is served and send a message not just to law enforcement but also the young people that these types of tragedies have to end in this country," the congressman said.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said earlier that the detectives could face departmental charges in the Nov. 25, 2006, firing of 50 bullets that killed Bell and wounded two of his friends, but would wait to see if the federal government took up the case.

After the meeting, Conyers, Meeks, U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Astoria), U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel (D-Astoria), state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans), state Assemblywoman Michelle Titus (D-Far Rockaway) and Borough President Helen Marshall and a who's who of other House representatives from around the city paid a visit to the corner of Liverpool Street and 94th Avenue where the Rockaway resident was shot.

As the entourage joined Bell's family on a somber tour in the rain-soaked streets of the South Jamaica block, Bell's fiance, Nicole Paultre-Bell, quietly reflected on the shooting, which took place hours before she was set to walk down the aisle.

On Sunday at New York Police Headquarters in Manhattan, civil rights leaders called on Gov. David Paterson to create a state office whose sole priority would be to investigate and potentially prosecute police officers who shoot and kill or wound civilians.

"We don't need anymore neighborhood meetings with so-called respected community leaders," said Marquez Claxton of 100 Blacks In Law Enforcement Who Care. "What we need is progressive, revolutionary action that provides protection to all of the people in the state and in this city. And up until this point, no one has provided that for us."

After seven weeks of heated testimony, Cooperman Friday found the officers not guilty of manslaughter and reckless endangerment in the shooting of Bell, 23, and wounding of Trent Benefield, 24, and Joseph Guzman, 32. The judge said the prosecution did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the detectives and their partners, who were investigating drug and prostitution operations inside the Kalua Cabaret strip club, were unjustified in opening fire.

As news of the verdict reached hundreds of onlookers waiting outside the courtroom, many let out wails of anger, disappointment and sadness. Despite their frustrations, Queens and the rest of the city remained quiet and Sharpton urged residents to keep it that way for the sake of the Bell family.

"The only violence that has happened in this case was the 50 shots that killed Sean Bell," he told reporters at Meeks' office.

Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, who said he accepted the judge's decision, also urged the public to respect the verdict. He said his office would share its work on the case with the NYPD's Kelly and the federal Justice Department from a civil rights perspective.

Updated 6:57 pm, October 10, 2011
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