- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 3, 2006

NEW YORK (AP) — Several hundred people observed a moment of silence yesterday near the strip club where Sean Bell and two friends were shot by police after leaving a bachelor party.

The gathering near the strip club Kalua was held in memory of Mr. Bell, 23, who died a week ago just hours before he was to be married. Undercover officers fired a total of 50 times at the car he was driving.

“Fifty shots from the New York cops,” the crowd chanted before the moment of silence.

“We didn’t come here to start any violence,” said Malik Zulu Shabazz, a black nationalist leader. “The New York police started the violence.”

The rally was peaceful, although some in the crowd held signs reading “Death to the pigs” and “Shoot back.” It began after Mr. Bell was buried in Port Washington on Long Island.

On Friday, hundreds of tearful mourners paid their respects to Mr. Bell in the same church where he was to have married his high school sweetheart and mother of his two children.

“They took his life, but we can’t let them take his legacy,” the Rev. Al Sharpton said to cheers and “Amens” from the overflow crowd at the Community Church of Christ. “We must give Sean a legacy. A legacy of justice, a legacy of fairness. We don’t hate cops. We don’t hate race. We hate wrong.”

It is still not clear what prompted officers to fire on Mr. Bell’s vehicle on Nov. 25, but police apparently feared one man in the group was about to get a gun. The unarmed victims were black; the five officers were black, Hispanic and white.

Police union officials have suggested a fourth man was with Mr. Bell and his two friends and might have fled with a gun. The hospitalized survivors have said through their lawyer that no fourth person was involved.

The Rev. Lester Williams had been preparing to lead Mr. Bell and his fiancee through their vows Nov. 25, but instead delivered the eulogy. He stressed the importance of forgiveness and urged the congregation to remain calm despite the outrage over the shooting.

“I am angry as hell, but our anger must not cause us to sin,” Mr. Williams said.

Relatives of the two men who survived the shooting, Trent Benefield and Joseph Guzman, called for a night of nonviolence.

“Please, let’s respect this day, and don’t cause no problems,” said Denise Ford, Mr. Benefield’s mother.

Mr. Benefield was in stable condition and Mr. Guzman in critical condition at Mary Immaculate Hospital in Queens.

Complaints have mounted about the police investigation of the shooting. Officers have raided at least one home, picked up witnesses for such offenses as unpaid tickets and scoured vacant lots in an effort to find a potential witness and perhaps a missing gun.

Critics warned that the search has created a climate of fear in a community already outraged by the shooting.

“This kind of police conduct is frightening, and it serves as a chilling impact on those witnesses who want to come forward and simply tell what they saw, what they heard, so that justice can be served,” said Charlie King, an attorney who said he represents several potential witnesses.

Police officials insisted Friday that their investigation was appropriate and New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, speaking on his weekly radio show, called some of the criticism unfair.

An unidentified undercover officer and four others have been placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of a grand jury investigation that could result in criminal charges.

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