Bell's family responds, hundreds march

Sharpton vows to 'close this city' after officer acquittals
April 27, 2008 5:32:25 PM PDT
The statement comes after a judge acquitted the police detectives who killed the unarmed 23-year-old and wounded two of his friends the morning of his wedding. Sean Bell's two friends were also wounded in the shooting, which occurred outside of a Queens strip club, the site of an impromptu bachelor party.

  • To read Justice Cooperman's full decision, Click Here.
  • Quotes from Key Figures on the Verdicts
  • Images from the Story

    Legal experts say Bell's family faces an uphill fight in their attempt to have the officers charged with federal civil rights violations, and might have to settle for attacking them in civil court, where the city, not the officers, would be responsible for paying off any multimillion-dollar verdict.

    New York has a long history of multimillion-dollar payouts as a result of civil lawsuits brought by the families of men and women slain or beaten by police, including many settlements in cases where the officers were acquitted of criminal responsibility.

    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.

    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.

    "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 street front hall of his National Action Network office. "This city is going to deal with the blood of Sean Bell."

    Protestors gathered for a second day Sunday to show their anger over the acquittals of three police detectives in the 50-shot killing of a groom on his wedding day.

    The Rev. Al Sharpton says that the city must realize it's not acceptable to shoot down unarmed, innocent civilians.

    "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 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."

    "You give us strength," Nicole Paultre Bell told the crowd, "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 got to 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.