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Last Updated: Friday, 22 December 2006, 13:31 GMT
Answers demanded in NY police shooting
By Matt Wells
New York

A group of several hundred protesters took to New York's Wall Street on Thursday as anger over the fatal police shooting of a young black man increases.

Protesters march towards Wall Street
Some fear community relations have been badly damaged
The mostly African-American demonstrators, many of whom accused New York's top politicians and police of institutionalised racism, appeared outnumbered by a large assortment of police officers. Despite moments of tension, the event passed off without any violent confrontation.

Sean Bell, a 22-year-old father of two, was killed in the small hours of what was supposed to be his wedding day, at the end of November.

Nobody disputes that 50 police bullets were fired by five plainclothes officers at the car Mr Bell was driving, wounding two passengers who had been celebrating with their friend in a strip club in the borough of Queens hours.

None of the men were armed, but some police officers have said they had reason to believe otherwise.

The majority of officers at the scene were black, but one white officer was responsible for firing 31 of the bullets discharged.

Complete justice

The tragic incident provoked instant comparisons with the notorious police shooting of Amadou Diallo in 1999 - a West African immigrant who was hit 19 times on his own doorstep in the Bronx.

Charles Barron
If we don't get indictments, there's going to be an explosion
Charles Barron
city council

In the Bell case, virtually every detail of who did what, and why, is being disputed as the complex investigation continues under the direction of the Queens District Attorney.

"This society is suffering from a desire for instant gratification," said city council member Leroy Comrie, who represents part of Queens.

He told BBC News that calls for the sacking of the police chief, and the speedy indictment of the police officers, were premature.

"While it is true that police relations have got worse, not better in recent years, I am prayerful that we will have complete justice, and I have utmost confidence in [District Attorney] Brown," he added.

Many other black political and religious leaders in New York also agree with giving the benefit of the doubt to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, his police chief, and the Queens DA for the time being, but the majority of those marching in the financial district appeared to disagree.

Organiser and civil rights lawyer Roger Wareham said the officers involved should have been arrested or indicted already.

"In this situation, the gang is the New York City police department, they have colours, and weapons and apparently, they have immunity," he added.

He argued the involvement of black officers in the death of Mr Bell did not absolve charges of racism.

Relations 'damaged'

But some of the marchers were keen not to view all the police standing across the barricades in the same light.

Peter Miluk
If you act like a thug, you get treated like a thug - regardless of race
Peter Miluk

"I know there are a lot of good cops in New York City, but when they hide behind the shield, and defend the dirty cops, it makes them all look bad," said "the Message Man", a poet who lives in downtown Manhattan.

While demonstrators chanted slogans such as "fight Fascism!" and "Wall Street - our street!" some supporters preferred to remain on the sidelines.

Yvette, a loans officer from Brooklyn - who preferred not to give her family name - said that community relations had been badly damaged by the shootings.

"The man was unarmed. They aren't thugs, you can look at his fiancee and see that," she said.

But another bystander who was definitely not supporting the march said the police were getting a raw deal.

"If you act like a thug, you get treated like a thug - regardless of race," said Peter Miluk, who works as a stockbroker close to Wall Street.

'Big deal'

The most provocative language of the day came from Charles Barron, a city council member who once belonged to the militant Black Panther organisation.

Sean Bell
Sean Bell was to marry his fiancee on the day he was killed
Addressing the front of the demonstration through a megaphone, he hinted at future reprisals against the NYPD.

"If we don't get indictments, there's going to be an explosion," he said, to sporadic cheers.

"There are some people in our community that don't want to march anymore, and I don't have any control over them."

He promised a continuing campaign of street protests, including a march to the United Nations building at the end of January.

Although many black New Yorkers do not agree with the radical agenda of the "Day of Outrage" rally, the fact that protesters could bring the financial heart of the US to a standstill - albeit for less than an hour - is a sign of just how febrile relations have become.

The Empire Zone politics blog of the New York Times has posted dozens of reactions to the Sean Bell shooting, which indicate a serious sense of frustration and anger across the city.

"I am a young black man who is a responsible citizen - never been charged with a crime," reads one entry.

Adding: "I have an Ivy League education, a well-paying job. I know that at any time, a police officer, white or black, male or female, may shoot and kill me. That is why this is a big deal."

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26 Nov 06 |  Americas

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