Hundreds rally with Sharpton Saturday

Nicole Paultre: 'Justice system let me down' by acquitting NYPD officers in Bell case
April 26, 2008 3:58:57 PM PDT
Hundreds of angry people marched in Harlem Saturday, after the Reverend Al Sharpton promised to "close this city down" to protest the acquittals of three police detectives in the 50-shot killing of a groom on his wedding day.And Sean Bell's family is now vowing to continue its fight to have someone held accountable for his death.

"We strategically know how to stop the city so people stand still and realize that you do not have the right to shoot down unarmed, innocent civilians," Sharpton told those in the streetfront hall of his National Action Network office. "This city is going to deal with the blood of Sean Bell."

  • To read Justice Cooperman's full decision, Click Here.
  • Quotes from Key Figures on the Verdicts
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    Hundreds of marchers then hit the streets of Harlem Saturday, to protest the acquittals in the case and call for mass acts of civil disobediance.

    Eyewitness News' Stacey Sager has the story.

    As they shouted, "Shut it down," the Reverend Al Sharpton gave this crowd some powerful predictions for the coming days, telling them, "we strategically know how to stop the city" in the wake of a verdict he calls an insult.

    "So it will stand still," Sharpton said of New York, "and realize that you do not have the right to shoot down un-armed innocent civilians with no probable cause."

    The fiancee of Sean Bell, the man shot and killed by police 17 months ago, was at this rally and prayer service speaking out for the first time since she broke down and stormed out of the courthouse on Friday after State Supreme Court Justice Arthur Cooperman acquitted three detectives on all charges.

    "On April 25th, 2008," Nicole Paultre Bell said, "They killed Sean all over again. That's what it felt like to us."

    She went on to tell the crowd, "You give us strength...you give us strength to keep going."

    Outside Sharpton's headquarters, some people took to the streets of Harlem carrying white signs counting up to the number 50. It's the number of shots that were fired by NYPD officer the night Sean Bell was killed. His friends Trent Benefield and Joseph Guzman were injured in the gunfire.

    While Reverend Sharpton and the Bell family were somewhat reserved during the trial, now they are much more critical of the system that produced the acquittals. Sean Bells' father likened it to Alabama more than five decades ago.

    "Somebody's gotta answer that for me," William Bell said Saturday. "Is this 1955?"

    And for the first time ever, Reverend Sharpton criticizing the fact that a judge heard the case and not a jury. Also personally criticizing Justice Cooperman for taking into account the criminal backgrounds and demeanor of Guzman and Benefield on the witness stand.

    "Let's make it clear," Shaprton said. "It was a judge... former elected official...and I'm checking out right now, when he was in office, did he get money from police unions? We're gonna check out (his) background," he said to applause.

    Sean Bell's friend Joseph Guzman also spoke for the first time about his frustration with the verdict.

    "You don't know how bad this hurts me," Guzman said.

    Nicole Paultre Bell promises to stand front and center during any civil disobedience that is to come.

    "So every protest, every march, every rally I'm going to be right up front, I'm gonna be right up front, saying, 'Sean Bell.'"

    Sharpton plans to hold a community meeting on Tuesday to discuss when and where the proposed acts of massive civil disobedience will be held.

    In his ruling in the case of the three NYPD officers charged in Bell's death, Justice Arthur Cooperman said inconsistent testimony, courtroom demeanor and rap sheets of the prosecution witnesses - mainly Bell's friends - "had the effect of eviscerating" their credibility.

    "At times, the testimony just didn't make sense," the judge said.

    The verdict Friday elicited gasps as well as tears of joy and sorrow. Detective Michael Oliver, who fired 31 of the shots, wept at the defense table, while Bell's mother cried in the packed courtroom. Shouts of "Murderers! Murderers!" and "KKK!" rang out outside the courthouse.

    Protests followed later in the day, and police said two demonstrators were arrested near the site of the shooting Friday night. One was arrested on a disorderly conduct charge, the other on a charge of obstructing governmental administration, police said.

    Oliver and Gescard Isnora were acquitted of charges that included manslaughter, assault and reckless endangerment. The third officer, Marc Cooper, faced lesser charges.

    After the verdict, the U.S. attorney's office said it would look into the case and "take appropriate action if the evidence indicates a prosecutable violation of federal criminal civil rights statutes."

    In addition, relatives of the victims have sued the city. The officers, who had been on paid leave, also face possible departmental charges that could result in their firing.


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