On the first anniversary of the Sean Bell verdict, the slain bridegroom’s fiancÉe and her family, the Rev. Al Sharpton and elected officials got together with southeast Queens residents Saturday to work on improving the community’s relationship with the police.
Detectives Mark Cooper and Michael Oliver and Police Officer Gescard Isnora were acquitted April 25, 2008, by Queens Supreme Court Justice Arthur Cooperman in the shooting of Bell, who was killed in a hail of 50 bullets outside a Jamaica strip club where he was having his bachelor party. His friends, Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield, were injured in the November 2008 incident.
The verdict was seen as a disappointment and unjust in the black community, sparking nonviolent protests throughout the city.
Sharpton took a swipe at detectives union leader Michael Palladino during the so−called Sean Bell Summit event at York College, saying the Detectives Endowment Association president smeared Bell’s name during the bench trial and was not doing anything constructive to foster better community−police relations on the anniversary of the verdict.
“I wonder where Palladino is today,” Sharpton said. “I’m sure they’re not trying to heal the community.”
Bell’s fiancÉe, Nicole Paultre−Bell, said she was still grieving.
“The pain is still unbearable,” she said before reflecting on Bell’s being shot on their wedding day.
“What was supposed to be the best day of my life turned out to be the worst,” she said.
Budding actors played out a scenario in which an officer approached a resident talking to his girlfriend to point out what went wrong with the interaction.
During the scene, the officer did not identify himself while the boyfriend overreacted in a loud voice, objecting to the officer stopping him. The girlfriend noted that her boyfriend had the right under the Constitution to walk away if he was not being arrested or detained, which he was not.
One attendee at the summit said officers think of residents as “smart−asses” when they bring up their constitutional rights.
“To them, exercising your rights is being seen as a smart−ass,” he said, noting that the community needs more black cops who “understand our culture.”
City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D−St. Albans) said he hoped to hold similar forums at least once a year. The York College event was organized by U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D−St. Albans).
“We have young people who are disconnected from the reality of what they need to do with police interaction,” Comrie said.
Inspector Michael Blake, the commanding officer of the 103rd Precinct in Jamaica, was part of the York panel discussion on police−community relations, which included Paultre−Bell’s attorney, Sanford Rubenstein.
“When this tragedy occurred in November ... I looked at it as an opportunity to learn from,” Blake said.
The inspector said he wanted to assure the summit attendees that he was “not going to sit here and defend bad policing,” although he said he understood that officers have a difficult job and that they do not always do it right all the time.
Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e−mail at hkoplowitz
©2009 Community News Group
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