Yesterday morning, Mayor Bloomberg met with the family of Sean Bell, who was fatally shot when the police fired 50 times at a car carrying him and two of his friends hours before his wedding over the weekend. The Mayor also met with black religious figures, community leaders and politicians before a press conference where he said:
It sounds to me like excessive force was used. I can tell you that it is to me unacceptable or inexplicable how you can have 50-odd shots fired...
...The community is outraged, and I am, to put it mildly, deeply disturbed
The Mayor did emphasize that an investigation was taking place and that people not jump to conclusions. But it was quite a photo opportunity, to have the Reverend Al Sharpton by his side during the press conference. Apparently Sharpton was deciding until the last minute whether to appear next to Bloomberg. When asked by reporters if he wanted Police Commissioner Ray Kelly to resign, Sharpton didn't answer.
Bell, Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield had been at the Kalua Cabaret in Jamaica, Queens when somehow they got caught in the midst of a undercover police operation, with the police fearing one of the men had a gun. When the men got into their car, an undercover police officer opened fire on them after the car hit him and then crashed into a minivan carrying other undercover officers. WNBC 4 had an animated re-creation of the shooting, from the NBC News broadcast (watch the video), and the NY Times has an interactive graphic of the shooting showing the approximate location of the police and cars involved.
At the press conference, Kelly did say the circumstances were "unusual." From the NY Sun:
Kelly also said
The undercover detective who was investigating possible illegal activity at the Kalua Cabaret did not carry a gun or badge when he entered the club because a bouncer was patting down bar-goers, but retrieved them later and later confronted a group of men who he suspected were going to use a gun in a dispute.
By confronting the men himself, the detective apparently violated police protocol which usually calls for an undercover officer to let back-up officers in uniform arrive. Instead, the detective made first contact, which Mr. Kelly said was "unusual." Police experts said the policy of having uniformed police make arrests insures that suspects know that they are dealing with police.
Mr. Kelly said that when an undercover detective suspects a gun may be involved, the detective can take the initiative.
, "We stress, when officers go to the range, that they fire no more than three rounds. And, then, they look." Which raises many questions, since 50 rounds were fired, 31 from one officer. And after the conference, when asked if he thought excessive force was used, Kelly responded that Bloomberg was "entitled to his opinion."
Bell's fiancee, Nicole Paultrie, called Power 105's Egypt & Ashy show to say that Bell was murdered. From the Post:
"First, I would start by not referring to them as officers. They are murderers. They are not officers," she told Power 105.1's "Egypt and Ashy in the Morning."
Breaking her silence for the first time since Bell's death, Paultre added:
"No one gives anybody the right to kill somebody, to take someone's life. They don't know what they've done, what pain they've caused this family, my kids."
The pretty mom then broke down in sobs for several moments before mumbling "sorry" and adding:
"They barricaded him in, and they executed him."
... "They didn't tell me what happened, just to come, come to the hospital. And that was it," she said.
"When I showed up . . . they still wouldn't tell me anything," she said of authorities. "Everything was completely messed up. I waited over an hour in the emergency-room waiting area just to find out what happened, what condition he was in."
Paultrie's statement was unique; City Councilman James Sanders said that family and friends would not be making many statements because they didn't want to bias people in hopes of keeping the trial in Queens. Many of the black leaders, including Representative Charles Rangel and City Comptroller William Thompson, invited to the press conference did feel Bloomberg's response was much better than previous administrations. That said, there are still concerns about the poor state of relations between the police and blacks.
Other police groups felt the mayor was speaking too quickly and that the officers were justified in the shooting. The NY Times reports, "In a move that suggests the officers feel their actions were justified, the lawyer representing the men said he had contacted [Queens District Attorney Richard] Brown’s office and offered to have the officers speak to prosecutors and appear before a grand jury voluntarily without immunity."
An editorial from the NY Times says, "The officers must be held accountable for what has happened. But the Police Department must also confront the fact that a disaster that everyone swore to prevent seven years ago has repeated itself in Queens."
One from the Daily News notes "...Bloomberg and Kelly have made the right moves in releasing them as they've become known, incomplete and unpleasant as they are, as well as in keeping political, religious and community leaders abreast of developments. Overwhelmingly, those leaders have responded with anger tempered by reason. Generally speaking, there is wise recognition of what this incident does and does not represent."
This morning, Mayor Bloomberg will be meeting with Sean Bell's family.
Photographs of Mayor Bloomberg and others during the press conference (top), Commissioner Kelly (middle), and Representative Rangel (bottom) by Kathy Willens/AP