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Crowd unites in grief, outrage over shooting

THE NATION

Tensions reverberate in New York City after police officers kill an unarmed man leaving his bachelor party.

November 27, 2006|Ellen Barry | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Outside Mary Immaculate Hospital in Queens on Sunday, the bride rested her tear-streaked face on the Rev. Al Sharpton's shoulder. Hundreds of angry mourners shouted out the numbers from 1 to 50, to indicate the number of gunshots fired by police Saturday when Sean Bell was killed as he left his bachelor party.

"Kelly must go," shouted some in the crowd, referring to New York Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly. New York City Councilman Charles Barron promised "an explosion in the community," and said "every one of those police officers should be in jail for the rest of their lives, and after they die, they should go straight to hell."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday November 30, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 40 words Type of Material: Correction
Police shooting: An article in Monday's Section A about protests over the shooting of Sean Bell by New York City police said Bell's 3-year-old daughter, Jordyn, was weeping during a rally. It was his other daughter, Jada, who was crying.

The scene was reminiscent of racially tinged flare-ups that have roiled the city over the years. But those tensions had subsided in Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's New York, a gentrifying city where crime had fallen off the front page.

Councilman James Sanders Jr. called it "the Bloomberg effect" -- the period of calm that entered as Rudolph W. Giuliani stepped down as mayor -- but said Bell's shooting might mark a turning point.

"That honeymoon only lasts so long, and I say that as a supporter of Bloomberg," said Sanders, who represents a district in Southeast Queens. "It's just striking everyone, this idea of being killed on your wedding day. It's reminding people of their own family. Under these conditions, people are going to pay attention."

Bell, 23, who was to be married Saturday night, was shot to death about 4 a.m. Saturday as he left a nightclub with two friends after his bachelor party. The shots were fired by five undercover officers documenting narcotics and prostitution at the club, police said.

Bell was shot in the arm and neck, and was pronounced dead at Jamaica Hospital. Joseph Guzman, 31, was in critical condition with 11 gunshot wounds, and Trent Benefield, 23, shot three times, was in stable condition; both were at Mary Immaculate Hospital.

Kelly told reporters Saturday that the undercover officers believed that a patron was armed and that a gunfight was imminent. Eight men including Bell, Guzman and Benefield left the club and began to argue with another man, the police commissioner said. According to Kelly, an undercover officer heard Bell make a threat and heard Guzman say, "Yo, go get my gun." Bell then got into a Nissan Altima with Guzman, Benefield and a fourth man, police said.

Kelly continued: As Bell began to drive away, an undercover officer approached Bell's car, and a police minivan rounded the corner. Bell's car struck the officer and then the minivan. At that point, Kelly said, the officers shot at the car. No guns were found in the car.

The five undercover officers involved in the shooting were put on administrative leave Sunday and stripped of their firearms pending an investigation by the Queens district attorney, said police spokesman Paul Browne.

About 400 people gathered across from Mary Immaculate on Sunday to hear speeches from community leaders. In the crowd was Bell's fiancee, Nicole Paultre. Tears trickled down the face of their 3-year-old daughter, Jordyn. At one point, a woman began wailing, interrupting the speeches. She was led away from the crowd.

"We are here because this could have been us," Sharpton said. "We've got to understand that all of us were in that car."

Councilman Barron called for Kelly to resign. Sanders was more circumspect but said that anger over police tactics had been building up in his district. Bloomberg, he said, will be under "enormous pressure" to support the police.

"Err on the side of caution, Mr. Mayor," Sanders said. "You saw just about every elected official in Southeast Queens here saying that this case stinks."

All afternoon, mourners referred to incidents that had racked relations between minority communities and New York's power structure. One was the 1999 killing of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed African immigrant who was shot 19 times by police in the entryway to his apartment building. Diallo had been reaching for his wallet, but the officers said they believed he was drawing a gun. The four officers charged in the case were acquitted.

Sharpton recalled a 1986 beating in which white men attacked a group of black men whose car had broken down in Howard Beach, Queens. One of the black men ran onto a road, where he was fatally hit by a car. In that case, Sharpton advised the surviving victims not to cooperate with investigators and demanded a special prosecutor. Eventually, he got his wish.

For many in the crowd, the details of Saturday's shooting were too fresh to put into historical context. Czanell McCray, who knew Bell's family from church, was pained to think of what the 23-year-old was to do Saturday: marry the mother of his two daughters in front of 200 guests.

"It's like all the good guys, all the guys that are motivating themselves, improving themselves, and look what happens," McCray said.

Sharon Fulton stood opposite the hospital's emergency room, still stunned. Her sister, a friend of the groom's mother, had baked three cakes for the wedding -- white cakes with delicate black flowers, to go with the event's black-and-white theme. Those cakes were her connection to Bell and his fiancee, until Saturday: "When I called my sister and asked what time she was going to deliver the cakes, she said, 'He's dead.' "

ellen.barry@latimes.com

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