Sunday, December 17, 2006

Tens of Thousands Demonstrate Against Police Terrorism Down Fifth Avenue in New York

Historic Demonstration Against Police Terrorism in New York City

PANW Editor's Note: Today's anti-police brutality demonstration in New York City attracted tens of thousands of people to the heart of the holiday shopping district in America's largest city. According to first-hand accounts of the march, there were approximately 40,000 people in attendance. At a meeting in Detroit sponsored by the Workers World Party on Saturday, guest speaker Larry Holmes of the Troops Out Now Coalition based in New York, said "that this is the largest demonstration against police brutality that I can recall. In the aftermath of the murder of Amadou Diallo in 1999, the demonstrations were large but nothing that comes close to what happened today in New York City."

The initial accounts from the corporate media do not, of course, capture the general mood and thrust of today's demonstrations. This is a manifestation of growing anger by the people in the city about the vicious police execution of Sean Bell, a 23-year-old African-American who was scheduled to be married in just a few hours.

It appears that the demonstration was the result community efforts and was not necessary organized by any one particular media-recognized leader in the city but more of a reflection of the strong feelings among people throughout New York as it relates to the shooting in Queens on November 25 but also the overhaul status of police-community relations in the city.

Abayomi Azikiwe

December 17, 2006

Protesters Denounce Police Killing

New York Times

A protest march cut a solemn swath through crowds of Christmas shoppers and the joyous mood of the holiday season in Midtown Manhattan yesterday in a rebuke to the police for the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man in Queens on his wedding day last month.

Three weeks after Sean Bell was killed and two friends were wounded in a hail of 50 police bullets, a coalition of civil rights groups, elected officials, community leaders, clergymen and others marched down Fifth Avenue and across 34th Street in a “silent” protest that sputtered scattered chants, but was largely devoid of shrieks, speeches and most of the usual sound-and-fury tactics of demonstrations.

Billed as a “Shopping for Justice” march and led by the Rev. Al Sharpton, the army of protesters, many carrying placards, moved grim-faced between hordes of holiday shoppers and tourists clogging the sidewalks of two of the city’s busiest commercial arteries.

The police had set up metal barricades to confine the marchers to a single traffic lane, but the throng quickly swelled beyond expectations and the barricades were shifted to widen the line of march to four of the five lanes on Fifth Avenue and five of the six on 34th Street. Traffic on side streets leading to the march was halted as the protesters swept on.

Here and there, marchers shouted “No shopping, no justice,” or “Shot” and numbers from 1 to 50. Others carried signs proclaiming: “Stop NYPD Racist Terror,” and “Justice for Sean Bell.” But most stared straight ahead, ignoring those on the other side of the barricades.

The size of the protest, strung out for 10 blocks, was anybody’s guess. [In fact organizers have given estimates that range into the tens of thousands. The exclusion of this fact by the NYT is a reflection of their willful distortion of what the community's response to this tragedy has been, (PANW Note)]. The organizers said thousands marched. The police, as is customary, gave no estimate. In any case, there were no confrontations, arrests or untoward incidents during the march, the police said.

“We’re not coming to buy toys, we’re not coming to buy trinkets — we’re coming to shop for justice,” Mr. Sharpton, a man never at a loss for words, said at a morning rally in Harlem, explaining what could not be said in a nonverbal march. “Our presence is a bigger statement than anything we could ever say with our mouths.”

In Midtown, shoppers gawked. Tourists snapped pictures and wondered what it was all about. Salvation Army carolers sang on, and the protesters, who had been admonished repeatedly by organizers to remain silent, kept discipline only in the front ranks, where members of Congress, the Legislature, the City Council and other V.I.P.s marched alongside a stone-faced Mr. Sharpton.

“It’s New York, you always see crazy things,” Margaret Rajnik, a nurse from Atlantic City, said at Rockefeller Center, where mobs of shoppers jammed the plaza in front of the skating rink, the giant Christmas tree and the golden Prometheus.

A sampling of shoppers found many against the protest. “We just came here to go shopping at the American Girl store and go see the Rockettes,” said Cherrie Ostigui, 38, of Odenton, Md. “Now we can’t even cross the street to get our lunch.”

Steve Diomopoulos, 22, a student from Livonia, Mich., called it “a weird time to be doing this,” and added: “It’s an inconvenience to people like myself who came from out of town and want to get some Christmas shopping done. It’s almost like a hostile atmosphere. I don’t think that’s what people came here to see.”

But Seleah Bussey, 22, a Brooklyn College student, said, “I think it’s good because it’s a tourist area and tourists need to know what’s really happening.”

Mr. Sharpton, who called the Queens shooting a case of excessive force, said the march was a moral appeal to the city to change police policies.

Hours before he was to be married on Nov. 25, Mr. Bell was killed and his friends, Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield, were wounded in a barrage of police bullets as they left a bachelor party at a strip club. The police, conducting an undercover operation at the club, said they believed the victims were going to get a gun, and opened fire when the men’s car hit an officer and an unmarked police minivan.

Mr. Bell and his friends were black; the officers were white, Hispanic and black. No guns were found among the victims, and while the police say they are examining reports that a fourth man who ran away may have had a gun, the case has generated vigils and protests that culminated in yesterday’s march.

Besides the complaints of annoyed shoppers, the march generated two negative responses that were aimed at Mr. Sharpton.

Before the march, Steven A. Pagones, a former assistant prosecutor in Dutchess County who won a defamation suit against Mr. Sharpton and two others in 1998, showed up near the marchers’ rendezvous point to remind reporters that he had been falsely accused of being one of a group of white men who abducted and raped a black teenager, Tawana Brawley, in Wappingers Falls, N.Y., in 1987. The case stirred racial tensions nationally, but was investigated by a grand jury and found to be a hoax.

“I want people to understand that for years he’s made reckless allegations in furtherance of his own agenda,” Mr. Pagones said of Mr. Sharpton.

Michael J. Palladino, president of the Detectives’ Endowment Association, also cited Mr. Sharpton’s role in that matter. “I think it’s all about credibility, something the Rev. Al had forsaken a long time ago in the Tawana Brawley case,” Mr. Palladino said. “He’s trying to deny our police officers their civil rights and due process. But in the end, a grand jury will hear the evidence and they’ll come to a decision.”

The protesters, many of whom arrived in buses from Queens, Brooklyn and elsewhere, were joined by Representative Charles B. Rangel, City Comptroller William C. Thompson Jr., and other politicians; by the singer Harry Belafonte; by leaders and members of the N.A.A.C.P.; the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition; Mr. Sharpton’s National Action Network; and relatives and friends of Mr. Bell, Mr. Guzman and Mr. Benefield.

The group included Mr. Bell’s fiancĂ©e, Nicole Paultre, who has taken the surname Bell, and one of their two children, Jada, 4, and Abner Louima, the Haitian immigrant sodomized with a broomstick by a police officer in a station house nine years ago. Mr. Benefield rode in a wheelchair, but Mr. Guzman, shot numerous times, remained at a rehabilitation center.

There were chants and speeches from Mr. Sharpton and others as the crowd assembled at 59th Street and Fifth Avenue, but the exhortations ended as the protesters stepped off in early afternoon, heading down a Fifth Avenue decked out for the season.

The line of march led down a parade of elegant stores, past St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Rockefeller Center, where a Salvation Army vocalist sang sweet carols. Giant illuminated snowflakes graced the facade of Saks.

Lower down the avenue, the marchers encountered sparser crowds shopping for sneakers and sweatshirts.

The march ended at 34th Street and Seventh Avenue, outside Macy’s. There, Sonia Fatimah, 50, one of the marchers, yelled at a black officer. “I hope they’re not profiling your son right now, Sergeant,” she said.

Mr. Sharpton and members of the Bell family ducked into the lobby of the Hotel Pennsylvania nearby and waited for the crowd to disperse. Many other protesters, perhaps unaware the proceedings were over, tried to join them inside. There was some pushing and a brief scuffle broke out between some followers and news photographers, but it quickly subsided.

Later, about 150 followers of the radical New Black Panther Party burned an American flag at 34th Street and Seventh Avenue and heaped verbal abuse on a contingent of police officers. But there were no clashes or arrests.
Reporting was contributed by Nicholas Confessore, Cassi Feldman, Daryl Khan, Rachel Metz and Anthony Ramirez.

Shootings Bring Police Self-Examination

Police Take a Closer Look at Training After High-Profile Shootings


NEW YORK, Dec. 16, 2006 — - The night Sean Bell was shot to death outside a Queens strip club last month, the spray of bullets was so wide that one shot punched through the glass of a sky tram station a block from the suspect's car. Of the 50 rounds fired, four wound up in Bell, killing the unarmed 23-year-old the night before his wedding.

In Atlanta, during a no-knock drug raid, police kicked in a door and killed 92-year-old Kathryn Johnson as the frightened grandmother met them with her revolver blazing.

In both cases, the police officers involved claimed probable cause and self-defense: Johnson opened fire first, and Bell could have been trying to ram the undercover officers with his car.

But in both cases, local communities are outraged at police.

"We have officers right now, that when they leave the police station, they don't know whether or not the community will embrace them now, because of what this has done to the department," said Atlanta Police Chief Richard J. Pennington.

Dr. Maki Haberfeld, chair of the Department of Law, Police Science, and Criminal Justice Administration at John Jay College, is a leading expert on police integrity. She said that while the majority of today's officers strive to protect and serve, many are paying for the brutality and corruption of a generation ago.

"It's still deep in people's minds, ingrained in people's minds that police are corrupt," Haberfeld said. "This country has a history of nine decades of police corruption. … In comparison to what we had for nine decades, police today are not corrupted."

Better Training

Though the U.S. leads the western world in violent crime, an average police officer is armed and on the street after just 14 weeks of training. In contrast, Germany spends two-and-a-half years training a new recruit.

While many departments say they can't afford to train cops longer, some are trying to train them better. In Detroit, officers are now taught courtesy training, attend community meetings and man so-called storefront stations where everyday citizens are encouraged to help define the force.

"We bring them [the public] in on the ground floor," said Detroit Deputy Police Chief Jamie Fields. "The policies we develop affect the community, so we thought it best to bring them in on helping us develop the policy."

'Us vs. Them'

In Newark, N.J., where officers are feeling the ripple of resentment over the New York shooting nearby, newly-elected Mayor Cory Booker said crime will never ease until the "us versus them" mentality eases first, with cops and community giving each other the benefit of the doubt.

"You [have to] find a way to pull people together," Booker said. "You can't think that reducing crime is a law enforcement responsibility, or a government responsibility. It is all of our responsibility. If something goes wrong, it's not about finding blame. It's about accepting responsibility."
ABC News' Mark Reeves, Wendy Brundige, and Elizabeth Stuart contributed to this report.

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