New York Mayor Tries to Quell Outrage over Killing New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly meet with community leaders upset by an the shooting death of an unarmed African-American man by police over the weekend. Police fired more than 50 shots into the vehicle driven by Sean Bell after it crashed into an unmarked police car.
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New York Mayor Tries to Quell Outrage over Killing

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New York Mayor Tries to Quell Outrage over Killing

New York Mayor Tries to Quell Outrage over Killing

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

We're going to begin this hour in New York City, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg is saying that excessive force may have been used in the weekend police shooting of three unarmed black men.

Queens resident Sean Bell was leaving his bachelor party on the morning of his wedding when police fired 50 shots into his car, killing Bell and wounding two of his friends. After protests this weekend in Bell's neighborhood, Mayor Bloomberg met with African American leaders this morning and he promised a thorough investigation.

NPR's Robert Smith has the story.

ROBERT SMITH: Bishop Lester Williams was supposed to officiate at the marriage of Sean Bell and his fiancé on Saturday. Standing outside City Hall this morning, he remembered the 23-year-old.

Bishop LESTER WILLIAMS (Community Church of Christ): Very good young man that did not deserve to die in the street like he did.

SMITH: Then Williams pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket.

Bishop WILLIAMS: I'm saddened. I have their marriage license right here. This is what we were hoping. We were hoping for a wedding, not for a death certificate.

SMITH: Williams and other pastors and elected officials from Queens came to meet with Mayor Bloomberg this morning to demand that something be done after this weekend's police shooting.

City Councilman Charles Barron wanted the resignation of Police Chief Ray Kelly. Even though the officers involved in the shooting were black, white and Latino, Barron, who is black, said the shooting still smacked of racism.

Mr. CHARLES BARRON (City Councilman, New York City): We want them suspended, their weapons taken from them. They should be fired pending investigation. They should empanel a grand jury and let the chips fall where they may.

SMITH: There haven't been many details released about what happened early Saturday morning outside of the Kalua Caberet club in Queens. The officers involved are on administrative leave and still being questioned, but investigators have found 50 bullets on the scene, all of them fired by the five officers. The three men shot were not armed and that was enough for Mayor Bloomberg to call it deeply disturbing.

Mr. MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (Mayor, New York City): It's hard to understand, and keep in mind I was not there at the time, it's hard to understand why 50 odd shots should be taken. To me that sounds excessive and unacceptable, but we'll wait and see for the investigation.

SMITH: The officers were part of an undercover team investigating violations at the club. Police say one of the officers heard someone in Bell's group mention a gun. Bell and his friends then got into their vehicle and hit an undercover officer in a police van. The officers' shots began after that. Mayor Bloomberg stressed that alone wasn't enough to justify deadly force.

Mr. BLOOMBERG: The procedure is that you don't fire at a car if the car is being used as a weapon. Whether or not the police had reason to believe that there was a gun involved, I don't know. That's up to the investigation.

SMITH: Bloomberg says that he doesn't believe that the victims' race played any part in the shooting, but the incident has brought back memories in the African American community of Amadou Diallo. He was the unarmed West African immigrant who was shot 19 times by police in 1999. That shooting, and Mayor Rudy Giuliani's response to it, prompted massive protests in the city.

But Reverend Al Sharpton said today that Mayor Bloomberg seems to be handling the situation a little better.

Reverend AL SHARPTON: It is a better tone, but will it lead to results? We're not looking for better manners. We're looking for better policy.

SMITH: Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Kelly say the policies are already in place to prevent excessive force and any racial profiling by New York City police. The Queens District Attorney, currently questioning the men involved in the shooting, will have to determine whether or not those policies were followed in this case.

Robert Smith, NPR News, New York.

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