Sharpton Urges Action After Fatal NYPD Shooting

New Yorker Sean Bell was killed Saturday — hours before his wedding — by undercover NYPD officers who mistakenly believed he was armed. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has issued a call for unity. The Rev. Al Sharpton tells Farai Chideya he believes the incident demands more than talk.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

From NPR News, this is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.

New York City's history includes the cases of Abner Louima, Patrick Dorismond and Amadou Diallo - all black men who were killed or attacked by police officers.

Now, the death of 23-year-old Sean Bell has protesters taking to the street. Bell was African-American, leaving his bachelor party and shot by undercover NYPD officers who mistakenly believed he had a gun.

This puts New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg in a position of asking for unity, while officials investigate what happened.

Mayor MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (New York City): Our administration has always had a policy of open-door communications with all community leaders, as you know. And at times like these, I think it is absolutely essential that all of us come together, share what we know and commit ourselves to fairness, openness and justice.

CHIDEYA: Mayor Bloomberg also met with community leaders, including the Reverend Al Sharpton. Earlier, I spoke with Reverend Sharpton, who believes the situation requires more than talk.

Reverend AL SHARPTON (Pentecostal Minister; President, National Action Network): We must see some real action. One, we must see some policy changes the police department can do right now. There must be sobriety tests given police. These policemen were allowed to drink two beers. How do we know they only drank two beers? Well, because their office on - at the scene checks that.

Well, we know the officer at the scene checks it correctly. How do we know that, in fact, there's a case that the proper sobriety information is given to a jury? So they can change policy right now. He can change policy in terms of excessive force, saying that there's no way a policemen is allowed to use deadly force and certainly not above these certain amount of bullets.

We don't want, as I told him yesterday, just conversation. Conversation is better than Giuliani, but it's still not the arrival at - of having a society in New York - or around the country - where civilians and police are respected.

CHIDEYA: But, Reverend, I mean, you do admit that Mayor Bloomberg has at least opened the door for conversation. Can you point to specific policies of the NYPD that you think failed in this case? Because from what I understand, they weren't supposed to view a vehicle as a deadly weapon. What would you want changed, specifically?

Rev. SHARPTON: Well, specifically, I want the policy that exists enforced. They were not supposed to pull arms and use it as deadly weapon when it was only a question of a vehicle - that's one. So even before we go to new policy, they must enforce the old policy, the policy that existed Saturday night must be enforced.

Secondly, as I stated, the sobriety test must be put there for the vice squad. Thirdly, there must be some accountability at the scene that is independent of that vice squad. There must be a way that accountability kicks in when you have a scene involving a squad, then - and the accountability cannot be supervised by someone from that squad that has a self-interest in terms of their own career to protect their unit.

CHIDEYA: Do you think this is similar to the Patrick Dorismond case, where you had a guy who was approached by an undercover police officer, didn't recognized him as a cop, and then he died in the altercation?

Rev. SHARPTON: No, I think, that there was no approach here. I think this is similar to the New Jersey Four case, where you had some young man in a car headed down south - went down the Jersey turnpike. And troopers pulled them over, said they suspect they had a gun. When they tried to back out, they said they thought they were assaulted and shot in their car - multiple shots.

I think there's - and we fought that case. In fact, that is the case that put racial profiling on the law books in the state of New Jersey. I think this case - there was no personal contact between these officers and these men. This was - these officers are saying we just thought it lead, when this car allegedly hit the police van. That was an unmarked van, by the way.

CHIDEYA: Last question: what about the family? What have you learned from them that is going to inform what you do?

Rev. SHARPTON: Well, they have a very strong family. You have four different families involved. You have three victims and you have Nicole, who now has to raise her two children, really part of the Bell family. And all of them were very strong - just as - and I feel that they are - well, solid people. One that we lost, two that would have been seriously and permanently impacted.

CHIDEYA: Reverend Sharpton, thank you so much.

Rev. SHARPTON: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: Again, that was Reverend Al Sharpton. We also extended an invitation to the NYPD, but they didn't provide a spokesperson in time for our broadcast.

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