Meeks, Black Clergy React To Police Shooting
Flanked by 100 members of Southeast Queens clergy and civic leaders, Sixth Congressional District Representative Gregory W. Meeks, New York State Assembly Member Vivian Cook, New York City Council Member Tom White, Bishop Lester Williams of the Community Church of Christ (pastor for Sean Bell’s family), Bishop Erskine Williams of New Seasons Family Worship Center (pastor for the Benefield and Guzman families), and attorneys Sanford Rubinstein and Charlie King held a press conference on Monday, December 11 at the Robert Ross Johnson Family Life Center in Saint Albans, announcing a “proactive agenda” in reaction to the police shooting of Sean Bell, Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield last month.
In response to a question about the investigation of the incident by Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, Congressman Meeks said the group was not calling for a special prosecutor. “This community helped elect Richard Brown. We expect him to be thorough, fair, and accountable,” he said. Meeks added that the assembled group of clergy, civic leaders and elected officials “represent the people of our community; we are here to say we are monitoring this investigation. We want our voices heard! Justice demands unvarnished answers. If this is yet another case of the excessive use of force then the police officers involved must be held accountable to the fullest extent allowed by law.” He noted that the group believed that Chief Anthony J. Izzo of the Organized Crime Control Bureau had failed to properly supervise officers in the Club Enforcement Unit with fatal consequences. “Chief Izzo failed the community that he was sworn to serve. He must go,” said Meeks.
Assembly Member Vivian Cook added that “‘community policing’ introduced by former Mayor David Dinkins, should be re-established in order to change the fundamental relationship between people and the NYPD from one of contention to one of mutual respect and trust.”
Bishop Lester Williams emphasized the commitment of Southeast Queens clergy to urge the community to exercise calm, but at the same time seek fairness and thoroughness with the investigation. He called on his “brothers and sisters” within the clergy to unfold a collaborative process in order to assure a peaceful resolution. Bishop Erskine Williams, pastor of the Guzman and Benefield families, spoke of his recent experience with the police, noting that they had burst into his home late at night and grabbed his son, a friend of Sean Bell, allegedly for a $25 summons. His son was taken from his home and threatened by an officer in a nearby parking lot for information regarding the shooting.
Rev. Dr. Henrietta Fullard, President, of Clergy United for Community Empowerment (CUCE) said that the group would “reach out to young people who are still grieving and still have questions about police conduct that they want answered. While we were able to plan strategies for what should happen next, it is important that all of us support the same plan, the same objective, and have the same goals because there is strength in unity.”
Congressman Meeks said that for the immediate future the group plans to meet every Monday to follow up on priorities and develop creative solutions to community problems.