New York: Marching for justice and change (FCN, 01-03-2007)

NEW YORK ( – The mother of Sean Bell, Valerie Bell, began a 50-day prayer vigil on New Year’s Day, at the sight where her 23-year-old son was murdered, by plainclothes police officers, November 25.

“As a mother, I will never get to hold my son,” Ms. Bell told reporters. “It is the grace of God, who is our pillar, who allows us to get through this,” she added. Representatives of the Bell family say the vigil’s purpose is to bring attention to the lack of indictments.


One month after the slaying of the unarmed young man and the wounding of two others who were in his car, there are still no indictments; and activists say they are ready to take their call for justice to the doors of the United Nations.

“We must now go to the UN, because we cannot depend on anyone here–including the FBI–to do the right thing for Sean Bell,” argued Brooklyn City Council member Charles Barron (D).

“It’s not just about Sean Bell, it’s about a national pattern of police brutality and murder; and there is a Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the U.S. has signed on to,” the council member said.

Mr. Barron told The Final Call that he believes the marches were effective. “Our last march was on December 21, when we successfully shut down Wall Street, but there is a need for more direct action to force the Queens District Attorney to arrest the five officers who shot at Sean Bell and his friends 50 times,” the council member stressed.

In the meantime, law enforcement officials released a toxicology report on Dec. 22, stating that Mr. Bell’s blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit after he left the strip club, where he and friends celebrated his marriage to be. Mr. Bell was to be married the same day he was killed by the undercover officers.

“The D.A. is trying the case in the court of public opinion by assassinating the character of the victims,” Mr. Barron noted.

The council member’s allegation of character assassination has some validity. In a Dec. 4 story in the conservative magazine, City Journal, the writer Heather Mac Donald wrote: “Bell and the other men with him all had been arrested for illegal possession of guns in the past; one of Bell’s companions that night, Joseph Guzman, had spent considerable time in prison, including for an armed robbery in which he shot at his victim.”

Activists such as the Rev. Al Sharpton say that the only toxicology reports that should have any validity are the ones of the undercover police officers, who were inside the club. According to Police commissioner Raymond Kelley, undercover officers are allowed to have two drinks as part of maintaining their undercover identities.

The Drug Enforcement Agency says the officers were not tested for their alcohol levels on the morning of the shooting. The officers also have not yet testified before a grand jury.

Calls to the commissioner’s office have not been returned.

According to Council member Barron, there are community forums scheduled in the city’s five boroughs, where people will give testimony concerning their experiences with police abuse.

Attorney Barbara Muhammad said she would be taking testimony on December 28, in her home borough of Queens, at a forum sponsored by the Local Organizing Committee of the Millions More Movement at the First Baptist Church pastored by the Rev. Patrick Young.

“My sons have been stopped many times by the police, it is a routine by the police in my East Elmhurst neighborhood,” Ms. Muhammad told The Final Call. “I think the forums are significant because they will allow the community to show the police commissioner the need to curb such practices and to change his policy,” she added.

Ms. Muhammad’s youngest son, Khalid, 19, said that the police readily jump out of their cars and do not show their badges. “It is de-humanizing the way they deal with us,” he said. “I have been stopped in front of my house by detectives, who ask me where I am going and do I sell drugs, or am I carrying a gun. Once a female detective placed her hands down my pants allegedly searching me for drugs. That is so humiliating,” Mr. Muhammad said. “What is so frustrating is that the drug dealers are standing on the corner, but they harass the rest of us,” he said.

“We are going to the forum to tell our story,” Mr. Muhammad insisted.

Another forum was scheduled for the same night in Brooklyn, at the Brown Memorial Baptist Church, pastored by the Rev. Clinton Miller.

“Your testimony will be documented and forwarded to NYPD Commissioner Kelley and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and saved for our records as we continue to build a case, in support of the reform needed in the aftermath of the murder of Sean Bell,” states the flyer announcing the forum. Long-time community activist, Kevin Powell, will also be on hand to hear the testimony.

The NAACP is urging “swift action” to end racial profiling and police abuse in American cities.

“We need the End Racial Profiling Act to stop this insidious practice and to help begin to restore the confidence of communities, throughout the United States in federal, state and local law enforcement,” the civil rights organization stated.