Sharpton, Bell family meet with Paterson

May 8, 2008 5:16:22 PM PDT
The organizers of the Sean Bell protests, who on Wednesday were in the streets, trying to shut down the city, were in the halls of power on Thursday. And they were lobbying. They met with Governor David Paterson and state prosecutors, trying to make their case for a federal investigation.

Eyewitness News reporter Jim Dolan has the story.

Almost exactly 24 hours before they met with the governor, these five people were in handcuffs, in police custody. Then, they stood side-by-side with Paterson, who said he didn't condone illegal activity, but he did respect the non-violent nature of it.

How often is a guy in police handcuffs one day and then standing beside the governor the next.

That was the situation for the Reverend Al Sharpton, who was arrested Wednesday during an act of civil disobedience on the streets of Manhattan.

"We've done so with impeccable non-violence," Sharpton said.

At six chokehold locations around Manhattan, protesters blocked bridges and tunnels at the start of rush hour to express their outrage over the acquittals of the officers in the Sean Bell shooting.

Paterson said he would look at at least one important aspect of the case.

"We're going to take a look at legislation involving the alcohol testing of police officers after their weapons are discharged," Paterson said.

Paterson said he did not condone the protests, but...

"I must commend the advocates, many of them, over 200 arrested, for participating in civil disobedience in a way that made their point without any excess activity," he said.

The hopes of the family are now firmly in the hands of the U.S. Justice Department. Queens District Attorney Richard Brown promised the family that he would cooperate with the federal investigation. However, most legal experts don't think the family will get much help there, either.

Meanwhile, Sharpton on Thursday promised to stage another mass protest over the acquittals.

The next protest is planned somewhere in New York City within seven to 10 days, said Charlie King, acting national director of Sharpton's National Action Network. He said no other details would be released until next week.

"Yesterday was the beginning of a long and sustained campaign of civil disobedience," King said.

Bell was gunned down as he and two friends left his bachelor party at a Queens strip club on his wedding day in November 2006. The shooting stirred outrage and complaints about police conduct. One officer fired 31 bullets, emptying and reloading his gun.

The officers said they believed Bell and his friends were about to get a gun; no firearm was found. Bell's friends, who were seriously wounded, say the police shot without warning, which the officers deny.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly has said his department is considering disciplinary action against the detectives.

Sharpton, shooting survivors Trent Benefield and Joseph Guzman and Bell's fiancee, Nicole Paultre Bell, were released about four hours after their arrests on disorderly conduct charges.

King said Sharpton was pleased with Wednesday's protest but envisioned still larger demonstrations to come.

"We thought that, as the first and significant step on this issue, it went extremely well," King said.