Angry marchers react to verdict: ‘NYPD go to hell! We are all Sean Bell!’

By Tyneisha Bowens

On April 25 in a Jamaica, Queens, courtroom, a judge acquitted three New York Police Department officers responsible for the November 2006 fatal shooting of 23-year-old Sean Bell. The horrific attack, which took place the night before Bell was to get married, also wounded Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield. All three shooting victims are African-American.

April 25, Jamaica, Queens, N.Y.
April 25, Jamaica, Queens, N.Y.
WW photos: John Catalinotto

District Attorney Richard Brown announced the judge’s ruling in front of the families and friends of the NYPD’s victims as well as the media. Brown then defended the verdict and stated that “reforms” in the NYPD were likely to come from the case. Outside the court the family, friends and supporters of Bell, Guzman and Benefield mourned and protested the decision with a march around the courthouse. This was followed by a visit to Bell’s grave site.

In preparation for the possible acquittal, the Peoples Justice for Community Control and Police Accountability Coalition called for a rally and community speakout during the evening of April 25. Speakers included families of victims killed and brutalized by the NYPD, cultural performers and representatives of various endorsing organizations.

Community members and organizations including the Audre Lorde Project, CAAAV: Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence, Make the Road by Walking, Parents Against Police Brutality, May 1st Coalition for Immigrant and Workers Rights, Million Worker March Movement and the International Action Center marched without a permit from District Attorney Brown’s office to the site of the killing, which is now a memorial to Sean Bell, where a second rally was held.

The marchers chanted: “NYPD go to hell! We are all Sean Bell!” and “No Justice, No Peace, No racist police!” Marchers were welcomed into homes, businesses and buses. At one point a white truck driver honked and chanted with protesters as the youth led him through the march.

Following the official end of the People’s Justice march and rally, a spontaneous march led by community members including the Bloods (Black Liberation Organization Of Defense), a street organization originally formed in the 1970s, proceeded to the 40 Projects in Southside Jamaica, Queens.

The unpermitted march took the streets of Queens, holding a rally in the South Jamaica Housing Development and marching to the local NYPD precinct. Youth of the community joined the march and supporters lined the streets as the protesters yelled, “Fuck the police!” The marchers faced off with more than 50 NYPD officers at the precinct, where they held a speakout and continued their chants. The march ended after midnight. One protester and one legal observer were arrested and released on bail.

The acquittal has sparked a series of actions across the country protesting the verdict, including a demonstration led by the Rev. Al Sharpton on April 26 in Harlem. The Peoples Justice march, numbering about 1,500 altogether and consisting mostly of youth, included a diverse spectrum of nationality, sex, gender and sexuality.

The state killing of Sean Bell, like that of Amadou Diallo in 1999, is another in the series of attacks on the self-determination of the Black community. The responses to the verdict were actions of self-defense and resistance by people of color, women, LGBT/Queer folks and youth, who blocked the streets chanting: “Whose Streets, Our Streets!” and “Justice for Sean Bell!”

The writer is an organizer of the youth group Fight Imperialism, Stand Together (FIST), which participated in the April 25th marches.


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