Revolution#129, May 18, 2008

In the Streets in New York Against the Decision Declaring Sean Bell’s Murderers Not Guilty


Hundreds and thousands of people have been in the streets in New York, outraged and determined that the not guilty verdict on the cops who killed Sean Bell cannot stand. Beautiful outpourings of hundreds of young people from high schools and colleges near where Sean Bell lived and died have marched several times now through the busy shopping area in Jamaica, Queens, stopping traffic and drawing in passersby everywhere they go. They have faced off with riot-clad police at the hated 103rd Precinct and spoken out against the murder of Sean and the way the police harass, jack up, bust for bullshit reasons, brutalize, and even murder people all the damned time and nothing ever gets done about it. Some—but not enough—activists and others of all ages and from all over the city have joined the people protesting in Queens.

On Friday, May 2, dozens of young people drove through Jamaica, Queens, on a flatbed truck decorated with announcements of the march later that day, handing out flyers, stopping for short rallies on street corners and outside the high schools, challenging people to act now to stop this. One of the first young people who jumped into the truck that morning left his job on the spot when he saw the truck getting ready. At one point the truck stopped in front of a mosque where services were letting out and hundreds of mainly South Asian immigrants, at first hesitant, began gathering around to grab up and read the flyers and hear what the youth had to say about the police murder of Sean Bell and how the police treat them every day. By 3:00, dozens more young people, mostly young women, were marching from one of the high schools to meet the several dozen already at the gathering point.

The march grew to several hundred as it marched through the busy shopping area. A lot of people had heard about it on the radio or had gotten a text message or a flyer in the days before. Participants called relatives and friends on the spot to tell them to get their butts out there. Many more joined on the spot. Traffic stopped, drivers honked in support and jumped out of their cars to get flyers and see the march. Fists shot into the air, people joined chants from the sidelines, the sound of the honks and the chants boomed and echoed for blocks. People chanted: “NYPD go to hell, justice for Sean Bell,” and “We are all Sean Bell, NYPD go to hell.” “Fifty shots—fuck the cops.” Demonstrators counted off from one to fifty, for the fifty shots the cops fired. Many in Queens and in the demonstrations all over the city have taken up signs from the Harlem Revolution Club saying “We Are All Sean Bell—The Whole Damn System is Guilty!”

On Wednesday, May 7, hundreds of people of all ages and nationalities stopped traffic at five different entrances to bridges and tunnels around Manhattan and Brooklyn. Over 200 were arrested in civil disobedience. Reverend Al Sharpton, Sean Bell’s surviving fiancée Nicole Paultre Bell, and Sean’s friends Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield, who were almost killed along with him that night, were arrested as part of the protest near police headquarters, on an entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge. Hazel Dukes  of the NAACP, City Councilperson Charles Barron, and Reverend Herbert Daughtry were also among those arrested.

Around the city, smaller groups of dozens have organized themselves to go into the street. One church group of 50 people blocked traffic outside Madison Square Garden and a few days later marched through Jamaica, Queens. Twenty artists marched from their regular meeting to the local precinct. Several dozen people marched in Washington Heights, an area with a large Dominican population. More actions are planned.

The anger among people is deep. Many, many people are not accepting that business should continue as usual when a court has given a green light to the cops to shoot any Black or Latino young person in this city, for any reason or for no reason at all. As one young West Indian woman pointed out during the demonstration outside One Police Plaza on Wednesday, the police used to plant “throw-down” guns on the people they killed to make it seem like they were threatened. Now the judge in Sean Bell’s case has said that all they have to do is say they “thought” they were in danger.

A lot of people expected some small scrap of justice from the judge after he had heard the testimony about Sean’s wedding morning. Michael Hardy, Nicole Paultre Bell’s lawyer, said, “Now it is clear what the answer is to this family about what the value of the life of an innocent person is in our community.”

A basic reality of how ages-old oppression and exploitation are enforced in America has been starkly revealed. People are talking about how to put an end to a system that murders our youth and crushes the lives out of people around the world. As a flyer from the Harlem Revolution Club put it, “Police murdering Black and Latino youth and getting away with it again and again and again must stop here. What must start here is spreading the understanding that this system is the problem, and it needs to be gotten rid of through revolution—building a revolutionary movement and forging a revolutionary people. People who know we need revolution and are determined to fight for it. We have to keep fighting for justice for Sean Bell, taking it to the streets and keeping it in the streets. More people, from different walks of life and of different races and nationalities, have to join this fight. It has to get better organized and stronger. The whole world is watching.”  

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