An angry crowd demanded Sunday to know why police officers killed an unarmed man on the day of his wedding, firing dozens of shots that also wounded two of the man’s friends. Some called for the ouster of the city’s police commissioner.
At a vigil and rally the day after 23-year-old Sean Bell was supposed to have married the mother of his two young children, a crowd led by the Rev. Al Sharpton shouted “No justice, no peace.”
At one point, the crowd of a few hundred counted off to 50, the number of rounds that are estimated to have been fired.
“We cannot allow this to continue to happen,” Sharpton said at the gathering outside Mary Immaculate Hospital, where one of the wounded men was in critical condition. “We’ve got to understand that all of us were in that car.”
Some in the crowd called for the ouster of Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, yelling “Kelly must go.”
Vote of no confidence
The police officers’ group 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care said it was issuing a vote of no confidence in Kelly over the shooting.
Paul Browne, chief spokesman for the NYPD, said Sunday: “We are continuing to look for additional witnesses to shed light on the incident, and assisting the district attorney’s office with its investigation.”
The five officers were placed on paid administrative leave pending the investigation, Browne said.
Community leaders planned a rally Dec. 6 at police headquarters.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his aides were in contact with Bell’s family and community leaders throughout the weekend. Bloomberg and Kelly also planned to meet Monday with community leaders at City Hall.
The shootings occurred at about 4 a.m. Saturday outside the Kalua Cabaret, a strip club where Bell’s bachelor party was held. The survivors were Joseph Guzman, 31, who was shot at least 11 times, and Trent Benefield, 23, who was hit three times. Guzman was in critical condition Sunday and Benefield was stable.
Relatives of all three men — many of them stoic, and some crying — attended Sunday’s vigil but none spoke publicly.
At a news conference Saturday, Kelly said the department was still piecing together what happened, and that it was too early to say whether the shooting was justified.
The car, driven by Bell, was struck by 21 of the police bullets after the vehicle rammed an undercover officer and hit an unmarked NYPD minivan. Other shots hit nearby homes and shattered windows at a train station, though no one else was injured.
Police thought one of the men in the car might have had a gun but investigators found no weapons. It was unclear what prompted police to open fire, Kelly said.
It was also not clear whether the shooters had identified themselves as police, Kelly said.
Kelly said the confrontation stemmed from an undercover operation inside the strip club in the Jamaica section of Queens. Seven officers in plain clothes were investigating the Kalua Cabaret; five of them were involved in the shooting.
According to Kelly, the groom was involved in a verbal dispute outside the club and one of his friends made a reference to a gun.
An undercover officer walked closely behind Bell and his friends as they headed for their car. As he walked toward the front of the vehicle, the car drove forward — striking the officer and a nearby undercover police vehicle, Kelly said.
The officer who had followed the group on foot was apparently the first to open fire, Kelly said. That officer had served on the force for five years. One 12-year veteran fired his weapon 31 times, emptying two full magazines, Kelly said.
In total, it is believed 50 bullets were fired, Kelly said. It was the first time any of the officers, who all carried 9 mm handguns, had been involved in a shooting, Kelly said.
Bell backed the car onto a sidewalk, hitting a building gate, authorities said. He then drove forward, striking the police vehicle a second time, Kelly said.
The police department’s policy on shooting at moving vehicles states: “Police officers shall not discharge their firearms at or from a moving vehicle unless deadly force is being used against the police officers or another person present, by means other than a moving vehicle.”
In 1999, NYPD officers killed Amadou Diallo, an unarmed West African immigrant who was shot 19 times in the entry to his apartment building. The four officers in that case were acquitted of criminal charges. In 2003, Ousmane Zongo, 43, a native of the western African country of Burkina Faso, was killed during a police raid on a warehouse where he repaired art and musical instruments. Zongo was shot four times, twice in the back.