NEW YORK (FinalCall.com) – “This is our day! This is our time, stand up!” exclaimed Rev. Al Sharpton, during his sermon before a packed house at National Action Network headquarters in Harlem on May 10.
The Rev. Sharpton was talking about a day of civil disobedience three days earlier that was sponsored by his organization. “We have to keep on marching, keep on doing what we are doing,” Rev. Sharpton said. He was among protestors arrested.
According to the civil rights leader, nearly 250 people were arrested at six different sites where traffic was blocked. Activists want the federal government to investigate the fatal police shooting of Sean Bell on his wedding day in Nov. 2006 and the wounding of friends Trent Benefield and Joseph Guzman, after leaving a bachelor party. Officers fired 50 shots at the three unarmed men and the three officers charged with manslaughter and reckless endangerment were acquitted by Justice Arthur Cooperman.
Rev. Sharpton had said civil disobedience would be used to build support for federal civil rights charges in the Bell killing.
Governor meets with Bell family
After his release from jail, Rev. Sharpton told reporters, “I think this dispels the myth that people are not interested. I think a real statement was made. We’re very proud of it.”
Unofficial reports say at least 1,000 people participated in the protests.
Arrested along with Rev. Sharpton were Mr. Benefield, Mr. Guzman and Ms. Nicole Paultre-Bell, the slain man’s fiancÃ©e.
“All of the support, everyone by my side, saying Sean’s name, it felt good,” said Ms. Paultre-Bell. “We’ll do this 365 days a year, if we have to,” vowed Mr. Guzman. Protestors were charged with disorderly conduct and released within a few hours.
Protestors prayed and blocked traffic at bridges and tunnels to make their point, with demonstrations were held at the Holland Tunnel, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Queensboro and Triborough bridges.
Gov. David A. Paterson met May 8 with the Bell family. “The process of civil disobedience, by its definition and by its nature, inconveniences fellow residents, fellow citizens. That is the art of civil disobedience; it’s a disruption. No public servant can condone civil disobedience, because we represent all the people and we do not like to see any members of our society inconvenienced,” said Gov. Paterson, according to the New York Times. But, he added, the “reason that the civil disobedience occurred, from their point of view, is because the other redress opportunities of society had failed them.”
Gov. Paterson also expressed a willingness to look at and considering changing legislation that provides the rules for undercover work. Mr. Paterson said he would look into calls for undercover officers who fire their weapons to undergo alcohol testing.
Another Sean Bell moment?
“I agree with Rev. Sharpton, everyone who participated has a right to feel proud at what we accomplished,” Rev. Herbert Daughtry, pastor of the House of the Lord Church in Brooklyn and a longtime activist, told The Final Call. “I thank the people who stepped up to be counted; young, old, Black, White, Asian and Latino. It was an exhilarating experience,” Rev. Daughtry said. Many of the people were participating in their first demonstration, he added.
“This is just the slow down in preparation for the real shutdown coming down the road,” said Brooklyn City Councilman Charles Barron, who was arrested along with Rev. Daughtry.
“Rev. Sharpton and NAN are doing what they have to do,” said Ron Hampton, of the National Black Police Association. “We know the feds will conduct an investigation into the Sean Bell shooting, but, I must say, I am only guardedly optimistic that justice will be served, because we are still under the Bush administration,” he told The Final Call.
Mr. Hampton was glad to see involvement of Michigan Congressman John Conyers (D), who was headed to New York City to hold May 12 hearings into police conduct, at Final Call presstime.
The Connecticut-based Quinnipiac Univ. Polling Institute released a poll May 7 that showed 57 percent of people surveyed between April 30-May 5 disagreed with the verdict, while 30 percent agreed. Forty-eight percent of Whites approved, while 89 percent of Blacks disapproved of the verdict. The institute said 1,790 people were surveyed. “There is a substantial racial divide in New York City over the Sean Bell case,” said Maurice Carroll, director of the institute.
The New York Civil Liberties Union May 7 filed a “Walking While Black” lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, challenging the NYPD’s “stop and frisk” initiative. The Center for Constitutional Rights filed a companion class-action suit against the same NYPD practice. “It is especially important in the aftermath of the Sean Bell acquittal, that CCR and NYCLU join forces to hold the NYPD accountable for its illegal policing practices,” said Center for Constitutional Rights lead attorney Kamau Franklin.
The suits allege there is a systemic pattern of discrimination in the stops: Data shows half of the people targeted were Black, while the U.S. Census shows the Black population of NYC to be 25 percent. Blacks and Latinos comprised 90 percent of the police stops.
Activists are also pointing to a new incident involving the highest ranking Black uniformed police officer in the city. A three-star chief was approached May 2 by two White officers in Queens. According to reports, Chief Douglas Ziegler, while off duty, was sitting in a department SUV, when the officers stepped to him with guns drawn. Some reports suggest the chief got into a scuffle with the officers, who refused to believe he was who he said he was. Chief Ziegler reportedly was wearing his official police shield around his neck. One of the officers has been placed on suspension.
“This is a stop and frisk issue,” Marq Claxton, spokesman for 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, said May 11 on a radio talk show. “He (Ziegler) was just seconds away from becoming the next Sean Bell,” Mr. Claxton added. He announced a press conference to disclose what happened to the chief. “Our people must learn to connect the dots, it does not matter what your social status is, it happens because we are Black,” Mr. Claxton said.