Tensions high as NY police shooting victim laid to rest; protesters square off with police
NEW YORK – The man gunned down in a spray of 50 police bullets on his wedding day was buried Saturday as hundreds of angry demonstrators honored him with a moment of silence before going jaw-to-jaw with police in a bitter confrontation outside a Queens precinct house.The demonstrators taunted police, standing just inches away from a row of officers and daring the police to lay a hand on them. Some in the crowd held signs reading “Death to the pigs” and “Shoot back.””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 “March of Outrage” organized by the New Black Panther Party came one week after 23-year-old Sean Bell was killed and his friends Trent Benefield and Joseph Guzman were wounded when police opened fire on the unarmed trio’s car as they left a strip club. The demonstration Saturday began outside the club, moved around the corner to the site of the shooting and then continued to the precinct.Starr Nelson, a Queens woman in the crowd with two sons in their 20s, said relations between the police and local residents were antagonistic even before the shooting.”It could have been my son,” she said. “(The police) need to start seeing people as people, not animals. You don’t even shoot at an animal 50 times.”At a local hospital, Guzman was upgraded from critical to stable condition Saturday, and Benefield remained stable.Outside the facility, an attorney for the two reiterated that they do not believe there was a fourth person in the car before the shooting as police suggest, and an undercover officer did not identify himself and flash his badge to the men in the car.”Neither of the victims who are hospitalized, their bodies riddled with bullets, saw a badge or heard a command that the man who was holding a gun was a police officer,” attorney Sanford Rubenstein said.It is still unclear what prompted officers to fire on 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.Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown was investigating the case and civil rights leaders including the Rev. Al Sharpton have called for murder charges.On Friday, an overflow crowd of tearful mourners paid their respects to Bell inside the Community Church of Christ in Queens. Bell and his two friends were celebrating his bachelor party before the shooting.—Associated Press writers Tom Hays and Nahal Toosi contributed to this report.
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