Boro reaction to cops’ acquittal muted

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Across the borough residents, activists and leaders of different races said they were disappointed with Judge Arthur Cooperman's not-guilty verdict in the Sean Bell case, but despite the collective frustration Queens community remained quiet.

"I'm sad more than I am angry," Jacinda Jackson, a Flushing resident, said Tuesday. "I think it's wrong and I'm ready to rally for justice. But It's like, I'm thinking when am I not going to have to do that? When will there just be justice?"

With the exception of a small scuffle between protesters and a photographer outside Queens Criminal Court minutes after the verdict was announced, there were no reported incidents of violent or rowdy demonstrations in Queens. The peaceful response was urged by many leaders and activists, including the Rev. Al Sharpton, who said he will detail his plans for a large scale response by Thursday.

"We have faced bad judges all our life. We've been through this fire before," Sharpton said at a rally Saturday at his National Action Network headquarters in Harlem. "The reason I don't have to riot... is because we have made it this far."

Anger and sorrow quickly permeated a crowd of hundreds outside Queens Supreme Court in the moments after the verdict was read Friday morning. Angry onlookers quickly became protesters, shouting and pointing at uniformed officers manning a police barricade on Queens Boulevard outside the courthouse.

For many, the case was more about how the police deal with the minority community in Queens and the rest of the city than race. The victims were black as were two of the three detectives cleared by the judge.

At another rally Friday evening, hundreds of protesters representing nearly 40 city advocacy groups marched from the courthouse to the Kalua Cabaret strip club, where Bell and two of his friends were shot. Many demonstrators, such as Fahd Ahmed, 28, a member of the South Asian rights group Desis Rising Up and Moving, viewed the verdict as a show of disrespect by the authorities toward the city's minorities.

"We've seen this become repeated actions by the NYPD. For us it's important to make the link that we have solidarity," Ahmed said.

Despite the anger at the NYPD, the two precincts in southeast Queens had few incidents outside their headquarters. The 103rd Precinct in Jamaica was targeted by demonstrators immediately after the 2006 shooting even though the detectives involved were not assigned there.

"We had some people come and shout, but other than that there was nothing major," the source said.

Adoja Gzifa, chairwoman of Community Board 12, which covers Jamaica, applauded the neighborhood's youth for their civilized protests.

"Our community is going through a difficult time, but we are going to move forward and raise our voices in respect and dignity," she said.

Bell's family showed notable restraint. Stunned by the verdict, they went directly to Port Washington, where they visited the grave of the 23-year-old father of two.

His family also had the support of southeast Queens's leaders.

"When I was in the courtroom today and the judge began to give his verdict, I couldn't believe what my eyes were hearing," said U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica), who organized a community meeting hours after the verdict.

One southeast Queens resident who claimed she was a victim of police brutality said part of the problem is that police officers do not live in the neighborhoods they are supposed to protect.

"If the police were living in our community, they would better understand us and our children," she said.

Bishop Lester Williams of the Community Church of Christ in Jamaica, Bell's pastor, said Cooperman's verdict "is against the law."

"Someone has to be held accountable. This should never, ever happen again," he said. "If any time there's a call for unity, that time is now."

At Sharpton's rally in Harlem Saturday, Nicole Paultre-Bell, Bell's fiance, wore a button depicting her slain lover's face and held back tears as she spoke about her reaction to the verdict.

"On April 25, 2008, they killed Sean all over again," she told a packed crowd of 200 supporters. "You guys give us strength and keep us going."

Reporters Howard Koplowitz and Stephen Stirling contributed to this report.

Updated 6:57 pm, October 10, 2011
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