Thousands of protesters counted in unison to 50 to mark the number of shots police fired in the wedding day death of a groom as they marched Saturday along Fifth Avenue on one of the busiest shopping days of the year.
One of the survivors of the Nov. 25 shooting that killed Sean Bell led marchers from his wheelchair through Manhattan’s famous shopping district.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, among those who organized the march, pushed Trent Benefield’s wheelchair for awhile, and held hands with Bell’s fiancee, Nicole Paultre. Among the marchers were clergy, city leaders, politicians and entertainer Harry Belafonte.
Other demonstrators waved signs and chanted as they marched. “Stop NYPD Racist Terror,” read one sign. “Jail the Cops,” read another.
“It’s important that the police understand that they’re here to protect the people,” said Larry Dais, who has a 21-year-old son.
Organizers intended the march, dubbed “Shopping for Justice,” to contrast the slaying of 23-year-old Bell with the holiday spending spree.
Incident heightens racial tensions
The hour-long protest, which ended outside Macy’s on 34th Street, was the latest in a series of demonstrations since the shooting. Five officers fired 50 shots at Bell’s car, killing him and wounding Benefield, 23, and another companion outside a strip club. They had been at the club for Bell’s bachelor party.
The victims of the shooting were all black; the officers were white, Hispanic and black.
Police have said that undercover officers were conducting a vice operation at the club before the shooting, and they believed the victims were going to retrieve a gun — although no weapons were found. Police have also said Bell’s car struck an officer and crashed into an unmarked police van.
Sharpton and others say police used excessive force, and while the shooting was not strictly a racial issue, “clearly this seems to only happen in communities of color.”