Congressman to visit Bell's family

Sharpton vows to 'close this city' after officer acquittals
April 28, 2008 4:26:06 AM PDT
Three days after a judge exonerated three police officers in the killing of unarmed groom-to-be Sean Bell, Rep. John Conyers was scheduled to travel to New York City Monday to meet with the victim's family. Conyers, a Michigan Democrat and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, also planned to visit the scene in Queens where five officers fired 50 shots at Bell and his two friends, who were wounded in the shooting, the Rev. Al Sharpton and National Urban League President Marc Morial said.

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    Conyers' scheduled visit comes a day after national and local civil rights leaders and elected officials repeated calls for the U.S. Department of Justice to bring federal charges against the three officers. Also Sunday, other critics of the acquittal proposed a permanent state-level special prosecutor to investigate police misconduct and brutality cases.

    Civil rights leaders and local elected officials spoke Sunday before about 200 people and a bevy of reporters and television cameras at Sharpton's National Action Network in Harlem.

    The speakers expressed outrage and disappointment over Queens State Supreme Court Justice Arthur Cooperman's verdict Friday clearing the three undercover officers in the Nov. 26, 2006, shooting near a nightclub where Bell had just left his bachelor party.

    The officers said they believed Bell and his friends had a gun and feared for their lives; Bell and his friends were unarmed.

    Sharpton, who criticized state elected officials who haven't spoken publicly about the verdict, said he and others were organizing a response to the verdict but didn't elaborate.

    Sharpton, Morial and others said they planned to write U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey and his assistant for civil rights to request a meeting.

    Some at Sunday's meeting noted that Bell was only one on a long list of victims of police shootings across the country in recent years.

    "The scales of justice are out of balance," Clarke said to applause as some in the audience hissed that the scales were never balanced to begin with. "We will not see another generation of African-American men being shot down without there being justice. We will be focused like a laser until justice rains down."

    Other speakers said the officers' acquittal gave urgency to the need for younger generations to pick up the mantle of civil rights advocacy.

    "This is our lunch-counter moment for the 21st century," the Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr., president of the Hip Hop Caucus in Washington, D.C., said of police misconduct.

    "Their Emmit Till is now our Sean Bell," he said of the 14-year-old black Chicago boy who was brutally murdered in 1955 by white men in Mississippi for supposedly whistling at a white woman. "We must rise up now."

    Steele said he was "sick and tired of being sick and tired of injustices in our society."

    "We can't sit idly by and let this inhumane treatment continue," Steele said. "You still must march and raise hell and go to jail. You can't expect this country that enslaved you to save you."

    Bell's fiancee, Nicole Paultre Bell, and father, William Bell, also attended the meeting.

    Earlier Sunday, former New York Civil Liberties Union head Norman Siegel and the co-founders of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, proposed a permanent state-level special prosecutor with the power to investigate allegations of police misconduct, brutality and corruption.

    Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown, whose office prosecuted the Bell shooting case, had said there was no basis for the appointment of a special prosecutor.

    The advocates also said the NYPD's 13-member Civilian Complaint Review Board, an independent agency that investigates allegations against police officers, needed a massive overhaul.

    In order to become more effective, they said, department attorneys should be replaced with the board's own legal unit and the statute of limitations on its probes should be extended from 18 months to three years, the same time frame for federal civil rights cases.

    They said they expected Gov. David Paterson to support their proposals. A spokeswoman for Paterson said Sunday that the governor recently learned of the recommendations through press reports and would review them carefully.


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