NYC Marchers Protest Police Shooting

Thousands of protesters clogged New York's Fifth Avenue on Saturday, December 16, 2006 in a "Shopping for Justice" protest three weeks after the slaying of an unarmed man by police.
CBS
Thousands of protesters, counting in unison from one to 50 to mark the number of shots fired by police in the death of an unarmed Queens man last month, clogged Fifth Avenue on Saturday in a "Shopping for Justice" protest three weeks after the slaying and one week before the Christmas weekend.

Trent Benefield, 23, one of the survivors of the Nov. 25 shooting that killed Sean Bell, led the marchers from his wheelchair as they headed south through midtown Manhattan. He was encircled by bodyguards, and followed by a group of clergy and elected officials on one of the busiest shopping days of the year just nine days before Christmas.

"This is not just a New York City problem," said U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, who was near the front of the march. "This march gives people a chance to speak out."

Bell's fiancee, Nicole Paultre, was also among the marchers, as were U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner, city transit union president Roger Toussaint and human rights activist Bianca Jagger. The marchers started at 59th Street and finished their protest more than an hour later outside Macy's on 34th Street.

The demonstration expressed the protesters' outrage at the slaying of Bell, killed in Queens just hours before his scheduled wedding. Five officers fired 50 shots at the 23-year-old Bell's car, killing him and wounding Benefield and another companion outside a strip club.

"It's important that the police understand that they're here to protect the people," said Larry Dais, a Columbia University administrator and father of a 21-year-old son.

Among those marching was James Canley, whose 25-year-old son Adrian was shot and killed last month by a sheriff's department detective in Thousand Oaks, Calif. He compared his son's death with the Bell shooting.

"11-14-06, Ventura County," read a sign held by Canley — the date of his son's slaying.

Other demonstrators waved signs and chanted as they marched. "Stop NYPD Racist Terror," read one sign. "Jail the Cops," said another.

The victims of the shooting were all black; the officers were white, Hispanic and black.

The march was organized by the Rev. Al Sharpton and other community leaders, and was intended to contrast the slaying of Bell with the holiday spending spree along Manhattan's most famous shopping district. It was the latest in a series of demonstrations since the Bell shooting.

But not everyone was behind Sharpton's cause. Steven Pagones, a former prosecutor who won a $345,000 defamation case against Sharpton and two other men in 1998, showed up at the march to remind people of the civil rights activist's inaccurate charges against him in the Tawana Brawley case.

Sharpton made the unsubstantiated allegation that Pagones was one of a group of white men who abducted and raped Brawley.

"Al Sharpton is capable of making outrageous and reckless charges," Pagones said. "I know, because I was on the receiving end in the Tawana Brawley case, which we know is a hoax. Al Sharpton is an opportunist. My primary purpose is to remind people to be careful when they listen to Al Sharpton."

Police have said that undercover officers were conducting a vice operation at the strip 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.

But Sharpton and others say police used excessive force.