2008-05-09 / Top Stories

Black Community Plans Response To Bell Verdict

By Miriam Rosenberg

The NAACP's Fred Lewis and Ed Williams (rear), Les Paultre, and Donovan Richards bow their heads as the Rev. Darren Ferguson, not pictured, prayed at the start of the meeting.
Through prayer and song and with a certain amount of anger, Rockaway's African-American community came together last week to discuss its response to the April 25 verdict acquitting three police detectives in the death of Far Rockaway resident Sean Bell.

Bell was shot and killed 17 months ago when the three undercover detectives let loose a hail of 50 bullets as he and his friends were leaving Bell's bachelor party at a strip club in Jamaica. The detectives said they believed that one of the two men with Bell had a gun, but no weapon was ever found.

"We came here because we don't want there to be another Sean Bell, ever," said the Rev. Darren Ferguson, who will soon be installed as the new pastor at Mount Carmel Baptist Church on 71 Street where the meeting was held.

Ed Williams, the president of Far Rockaway's NAACP reminded everyone that after the case of Amadou Diallo the black community said "never again."

Councilman James Sanders Jr. addresses the crowd at Mount Carmel Baptist Church on April 30.
"The system still prevails and makes justice for us inequitable," said Williams. "We get outraged at the time, and then it dissipates." Williams added, "We've never shown unity. If we don't, Sean Bell's death will have been in vain."

Donovan Richards, the district liaison for Councilman James Sanders Jr. said it was time for the community to wake up and take action. "This community has been asleep too long," said Richards, a candidate to replace Sanders in the city council. "It's time to stand up. Not just against police brutality, but also against the drug dealers outside your building," said Richards. "It's about doing and action. Too many in Far Rockaway have been dormant and inactive [for too long]."

Reflecting about the young man who would have been his son-in-law, Les Paultre related a recent incident. "I was helping one of the girls [Sean's daughter] with a project for school, and it dawned on me that this is what Sean would have been doing," said Paultre.

During the meeting Les Paultre, the father of Sean Bell's fiancée, reflects on what might have been. The button on Paultre's lapel bears a photo of Bell.
He said Bell's daughter, Nicole, had faith in the justice system when Bell was killed. Now, she just believes the justice system has let her down. "It's amazing how smart people - a judge will dump on the black community," said Paultre. "The judge raped, vilified our community."

"[Judge] Cooperman, he knows what [the detectives] did. They killed an innocent man. One officer was shooting backwards. The judge said there was no crime here. The crime is against humanity."

Councilman James Sanders Jr., who arrived late, repeated what he told Mayor Bloomberg before the verdict came in. "If there is no justice, the people's anger is righteous and if there is no justice there will be those who will call for a militant demonstration, and I will be one of them." He also called the way the black community handled the situation, "like nice English gentlemen," a mistake. "I've never seen where this type of action got us success," said Sanders. "All I know, based on my history, is we have to have a popular mobilization. The streets have to be organized." The councilman continued by saying, "The days to come are going to be the most challenging we've had. It could be argued that a green light was given to the police department to do whatever they want with very little penalty." Sanders emphasized he is not one of those who is saying that. He also cautioned everyone about expecting quick fixes. "The battle is not over. There are not any quick solutions, only struggle," said Sanders.

Pastor Ferguson proposed an 11- point draft for a plan.

Ferguson suggested that a Far Rockaway coalition visit leaders in Washington and Albany, including meeting with Governor David Paterson; as well as meet with watch commanders at both Rockaway precincts. "We need at least 1,000 people. We need everybody out here standing outside while we meet with them [the precinct commanders] and present our list of demands," said Ferguson.

The pastor also believes that new police officers should have an orientation with community members; that a legal defense fund for victims of police brutality be created; that clergy of all faiths need to get together; and that there should be more youth activities and summer jobs for youth and better education.

Congressman Gregory Meeks and Assemblywoman Michele Titus sent representatives who said the community had the politicians' support.

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