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Protests follow New York police acquittal

Latest update : 2008-04-27

Following the controversial acquittal of three New York City policemen who shot Sean Bell, an African-American male, in Nov. 2006, prominent African-American leader Al Sharpton called for civil disobedience to bring New York to a standstill.

Anguish poured into the streets of New York Saturday as hundreds of protesters expressed anger at Friday's acquittal of three police officers who gunned down a black man on the eve of his wedding.

Demonstrators took to the streets of Harlem, shouting "No justice, no peace," and holding up numbered signs, one for each of the 50 bullets fired at the unarmed man.

"We strategically know how to stop this city so it will stand still and realize that you do not have the right to shoot down unarmed citizens with no probable cause," said civil rights leader Al Sharpton, calling for further acts of peaceful disobedience.

The verdict handed down Friday drew cries of shame from the courthouse gallery and muted victory cheers from officials.

After weeks of hearing testimony, Justice Arthur Cooperman pronounced not-guilty verdicts against three police detectives who had opened fire in November 2006 on Sean Bell, 23, as he left a nightclub in the borough of Queens after celebrating his stag night.

Bell died on the spot and two of his friends were wounded. An investigation showed that none of the victims was armed.

Two of the detectives, Gescard Isnora and Michael Oliver, faced up to 25 years in jail on charges of manslaughter while the third, detective Marc Cooper, faced one year in jail on the lesser charge of reckless endangerment.

Cries of "Shame on you" rang out in the Queens courthouse, packed with spectators including Bell's fiancee and family, when the controversial verdicts were read out.

On Saturday, the tearful would-be bride told a rally of supporters that the quest for justice would continue.

"They killed Sean all over again. That's what it felt like to us," said Nicole Paultre Bell.

"Yesterday, the system let us down. I gave them the benefit of the doubt. I'm still praying for justice because it's not over. It's far from over. It's just starting. Every march, every rally, I'm going to be right up front," she said.

"I'm still praying for justice."

Cooper, Isnora and Oliver were part of a detail of undercover police who had been staking out the Queens nightclub where Bell had gone with friends the night before his wedding.

The New York police officers told the court that they fired their guns after Bell's car nearly ran them over.

Before announcing the verdict, Cooperman said that the defense had failed to prove "beyond a reasonable doubt that each defendant was not justified" in opening fire.

In an editorial published Saturday, The New York Times called the verdict "stunning."

"As all New Yorkers should, we respect Justice Cooperman’s verdict, but we do not believe all questions of accountability were resolved," the paper said.

The Department of Justice announced it will conduct an independent review of the case.

Date created : 2008-04-27