Monday, May 5, 2008

Sites of Bell verdict protest near transit hot spots

People protesting the acquittal of detectives in the fatal shooting of Sean Bell will gather Wednesday near six transit choke points around New York City before leading a march and "pray-in" organizers anticipate will lead to some arrests, the Rev. Al Sharpton said yesterday.

Speaking at the "House of Justice," headquarters for his National Action Network on 145th Street in Harlem, Sharpton said the civil disobedience will continue weekly, and produce a "citywide shutdown" to press for a civil rights prosecution.

"If you're not going to lock up the guilty in this town, then I guess you're going to have to lock up the innocent," he said.

The meeting places will be 125th Street and Third Avenue; Park Avenue and 34th Street; 60th Street and Third Avenue; One Police Plaza; Varick and Houston streets; and in Brooklyn at House of the Lord Pentecostal Church, 415 Atlantic Ave. Protesters will meet at 3 p.m., Sharpton said.

"Where we're going, those that know won't say, and those who'll say don't know," Sharpton said."All they'll know is why we're going," he added. "And we're going because the world must see that we're in a climate where the justice system in this state will lock up folks who'll be nonviolent and pray, but will not lock up police.

"Several of the locations are near transportation pressure points, including the Triborough Bridge, the Queensboro Bridge, the Queens Midtown Tunnel on the East Side and the Holland Tunnel on the West Side - reminiscent of locations targeted by Sharpton and supporters in protests during the so-called "Days of Rage" nearly two decades ago, and again in 1999 after the police killing of Amadou Diallo.

On April 25, Queens State Supreme Court Judge Arthur Cooperman cleared three detectives - Michael Oliver, Gescard Isnora and Marc Cooper - in the shooting of Bell and two of his friends, Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield, outside a Jamaica, Queens, strip club on Nov. 25, 2006.

Prosecutors failed, the judge said, to undercut the officers' claims that they fired a 50-shot barrage in self-defense against Bell, who was unarmed. Within hours, the Department of Justice said the Eastern District U.S. attorney's office in Brooklyn and the FBI would be conducting an "independent review into the facts and circumstances" in the Bell case to see whether a federal civil rights prosecution was warranted.

In April 1999, Sharpton led protests of the killing of Diallo, 23, an unarmed West African immigrant hit 19 times in a fusillade of 41 bullets by four officers in the Bronx.

Then, about 7,000 protesters marched across the Brooklyn Bridge into lower Manhattan and held a rally at One Police Plaza to speak against police brutality. The protests were peaceful, though Sharpton and others - including Rep. Charles Rangel (D-Harlem), actress Susan Sarandon and activist Jesse Jackson - were arrested.

"The vigils and demonstrations related to the Bell case to date have not been violent," said Deputy Commissioner for Public Information Paul Browne. "We have no reason expect otherwise now. The police department, as it is on any day, is prepared for any contingency."Police could not confirm yesterday if organizers had applied for permits for the planned protests.

Staff writers Christina Hernandez and Andrew Strickler contributed to this story.