Sharpton leads protest charge

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Members of the Queens black community largely stifled their anger over Friday's acquittal of three detectives in the Sean Bell shooting case, watching and waiting for Rev. Al Sharpton to deliver on his promise of a massive protest that would "shut this city down."

A series of small but vocal protests in Queens and Harlem marked the days following the shocking verdict, but many in Queens said while they were angry they were prepared to wait to utilize their anger in the most productive way possible.

Sharpton joined Bell's parents, fiance Nicole Paultre-Bell, shooting victim Joseph Guzman and a throng of civil rights leaders in Harlem over the weekend to proclaim that their fight was long from over and the coming days would yield large-scale acts of civil disobedience to disrupt life in the five boroughs.

"I've already told my boss that I'm taking the day off whenever it happens," Malcolm Thompson, a Jamaica resident who works as a legal assistant in Bayside, said Tuesday afternoon. "You can't just lie down in the face of injustice, you've gotta fight. Otherwise, no progress would ever happen."

Following a meeting with union leaders and elected officials Tuesday in Manhattan, Sharpton said he would reveal the details of his plans for acts of civil disobedience, marches and boycotts by Thursday.

City Councilman James Sanders (D-Laurelton) said following the meeting that the action taken would be both varied and powerful.

"There will be many targets just as we were targets of 50 shots," he said.

On Sunday, an angry Sharpton downplayed the seemingly muted reaction in the days following the verdict.

"We know how to be angry without going mad. We are going to do this in an organized, meticulous way," he said at the headquarters of his civil rights organization, the National Action Network. "The only violence that has happened in the case of Sean Bell is the 50 shots of those police officers."

Community Board 12 Chairwoman Adoja Gzifa said the youth of southeastern Queens were angry, but were channeling their emotion well.

"Young people are hurt and they're going to express their anger but not in a violent way. They understand," Gzifa said.

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

In contrast to Sharpton, Paultre-Bell was more subdued in her first statements since Queens Supreme Court Justice Arthur J. Cooperman acquitted three city police officers in the shooting death of her fiance.

"The justice system let us down, let my family down," Paultre-Bell said Sunday in a somber voice. "But I'm not giving up the faith. I'm still praying for justice. It's just going to take a little longer."

As Bell's father, William, took to the podium, he briefly looked back at his 1-year-old granddaughter, Jordyn, who fingered a pin with her father's picture on it on Paultre-Bell's coat.

"It's hard to hold back the tears when I look at Sean's daughters, when I think about what it's got to be like for them... missing their father," he said.

Civil rights leaders from across the country also pledged their support at the rallies Saturday and Sunday.

"This is our lunch counter moment for the 21st century," said the Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr., president of the Hip Hop Caucus.

"Their Emmit Till is our Sean Bell," he said, referring to the 14-year-old black teen from Chicago who was killed by a group of white men for allegedly whistling at a white woman. "We must rise up now."

Crowds of between 100 and 200 people marched down Malcolm X Boulevard in Harlem Saturday and Sunday, chanting, "We are all Sean Bell, NYPD go to hell."

In Kew Gardens, hours after the verdict was read Friday, more than 200 people rallied outside Queens Supreme Court, before marching to the scene of where Bell was shot and killed 17 months ago.

Margarita Rosario, whose son Anthony was killed by two police officers in January 1995, said she came out because she knew what the Bell family was going through.

"They're burying him all over again," Rosario said.

Reach reporters Ivan Pereira and Stephen Stirling by e-mail at

Updated 6:57 pm, October 10, 2011
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