2008-05-02 / Top Stories

Local Pols Call For 'Healing And Justice'

Want Feds To Take On Bell Case
By Nicholas Briano

Queens elected officials, including Rockaway's State Senator Malcolm Smith, join Mayor Bloomberg at a press conference Friday, following the Sean Bell verdict, at which they called for calm in the wake of the controversial decision. Queens elected officials, including Rockaway's State Senator Malcolm Smith, join Mayor Bloomberg at a press conference Friday, following the Sean Bell verdict, at which they called for calm in the wake of the controversial decision. The Sean Bell verdict, which was handed down last Friday, produced strong, albeit peaceful reaction throughout the Far Rockaway area, where Bell lived with his fiancée.

Local officials weighed in this week on the impact that the verdict has had on their communities, as well as what they see as the future of the case, now that the three NYPD detectives were acquitted on all charges in connection with the shooting of Bell in Jamaica in 2006.

While some locals accepted the acquittal, others, including Bell's family, called for peaceful protests locally and for the federal government to take the case and try the three under federal civil rights law.

The verdict, decided in a bench trial without a jury before Queens Supreme Court Justice Arthur Cooperman, came as a shock to many who stood outside the courthouse in Kew Gardens.

NYPD security was in full force over the weekend in anticipation of peaceful and violent protests. NYPD security was in full force over the weekend in anticipation of peaceful and violent protests. There were many in the Rockaway community who believed that only one verdict was just, and that verdict was 'guilty as charged.'

Some local politicians apparently agree.

New York Senate Minority Leader, Malcolm Smith on Friday, in the immediate wake of the decision, requested that the U.S. Department of Justice conduct a full-scale investigation into what he termed the "heinous" crime.

"I implore you to devote the full resources of your office and the Department of Justice to bring speedy relief and resolution to an event that has irreparably torn the fabric of my community," he said in a written letter to U.S. Attorney General Michael A. Mukasey.

Smith added, in a separate statement, that everyone must join together and move forward in supporting the Bell family's attempt at federal prosecution.

"We will continue to support the Bell family and the survivors of the incident. Though we understand and share the frustration that many New Yorkers are feeling at this moment, we caution against giving into that frustration," he said.

"The past seventeen months have been extremely difficult on the families involved, as well as the community. With the verdict in, we must now look to begin the healing process."

Upon news of the verdict, Congressman Anthony Weiner, mayoral hopeful, also released a statement last week.

"There's nothing about the decision that can minimize the tragedy that occurred, and I think the court case was only part of what we need to do to come out of this tragedy," he said.

"Until we have a city where everyone has a sense of trust in the criminal justice system, we'll never have a truly united city."

Weiner's mayoral competitor, New York City Comptroller William Thompson reacted similarly and would like to use this as a platform to move forward and create a better relationship between police and New Yorkers.

"I am disappointed and absolutely stunned by today's verdict. This incident clearly involved an excessive use of force by the police," he said.

"All New Yorkers should be similarly disappointed by today's decision. We must work to improve relations between our city's police department and the many and varied communities it serves."

Queens District Attorney Richard Brown feels that much can be learned from the actions taken that night. He says the undercover operations suffered major deficiencies.

"I have spoken with Commissioner Kelly and told him that he will have our full cooperation as he and the department move forward in their effort to make certain that this never happens again," he said.

Brown added that he accepted Cooperman's verdict and urged other fair-minded people to do the same.

"Hopefully at the end of the day we will be able to say that something meaningful and productive and important resulted from the tragic events that occurred on Liverpool Street in South Jamaica almost seventeen months ago."

The three officers, guilty in the eyes of many locals, detectives Michael Oliver, 36, Gescard Isnora, 29, and Marc Cooper, 40, faced prison time for their actions. They still face departmental charges within the NYPD, civil action and a possible federal trial for civil rights violations. There is no indication as to whether Federal charges will be filed, however.

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