After Judge Cooperman’s decision
to justify the killer cops, the Bell family and supporters went to the
gravesite of Sean Bell. While there, it was reported that Mr. Bell said,
“We are going to shut the city down.” Afterward, Rev. Sharpton
took up the threat. I began to think how this could be done. We could
ask people to stay home, that would have an impact, but it wouldn’t
shut the city down. We could ask people to jump on the subway track.
We did this in 1986. We called that day, The Day of Outrage. It was
in response to the death of Michael Griffith, who had been chased into
traffic in Howard Beach by a white mob. In addition, there were cases
of police brutality. We did succeed in substantial stoppage for hours.
But the city was still mobile, especially above ground.
Another consideration was the danger of such a risky venture. The last
thing we wanted was to cause injury. Moreover, recruitment for such
an enterprise would be difficult. We wanted to build a movement and
in order to do that opportunities must be provided for maximum participation.
There was only one way that would come the closest to achieving our
objective. Shut down or block the arteries, i.e. the bridges, tunnels,
major through fares thus preventing the flow of traffic. The city would
have to stand still.
On Saturday, April 26, there was the usual broadcast / rally at National
Action Network (NAN). This is a time when Rev. Sharpton does a 2 hour
broadcast on WLIB, which also is a rally time. Often times the rally
continues even after the broadcast is over. This day, however, given
the Cooperman’s decision, there was a special electricity in the
air. The crowd was much larger, extending out of the auditorium into
145th Street. The emotions ran high – anger, indignation. There
was an eagerness for action. Rev. Sharpton in his weekly message continued
to threaten civil disobedience, boycotts and the shut down of the city.
I spoke about hope and dignity. All the members of the Bell family were
present. Also Joe Guzman, Trent Benefield and their friends and relatives
were present. As I was arriving at NAN, Mr. & Mrs. Bell and I arrived
at NAN at the same time. They were smiling, and oddly enough, seemed
relaxed. They mangled easily with the reporters in Rev. Sharpton’s
During the rally, because people could not get into the building spontaneously,
leaders stepped forward and marched the outside crowd through Harlem.
Sunday, April 27th, there was a press conference of National Black Leaders.
On Saturday, Marc Morial, President of the Urban League and the National
Black Leadership Forum, called Rev. Sharpton and asked him to host a
press conference at NAN for national leaders the following day, Sunday.
They came and spoke to a crowded press. They offered their sympathy
to the Bell family and vowed to support them in their quest for justice.
Rev. Sharpton after denouncing Judge Cooperman’s Decision, promised
to shut down the city. I spoke of a defining moment. A time that comes
seldom, when people have an opportunity to change history. Again, the
family members and supporters present the day before was also present
at the press conference.
Some of the people, who had engaged in the spontaneous action on Saturday,
duplicated their march of Sunday. The same group did a demonstration
at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday, April 30th. They did another
march and rally on Monday, May 5th, in Jamaica, Queens, tying up traffic
on Jamaica Avenue and Parson Blvd. The group named itself the Street
While I was at NAN over the weekend, I conveyed my idea of how to shut
the city down to Rev. Sharpton. He immediately comprehended the wisdom
and feasibility in the idea.
Similarly, after the killing of Amadou Diallo, seeing the people’s
anger and eagerness to act, I suggested to Rev. Sharpton we needed to
have continuous Civil disobedience. We were coming down the highway
from Albany New York. I told him about the civil disobedience during
the fight against apartheid. I was Chairman of the National Black United
Front (NBUF). I assumed the responsibility to coordinate the civil disobedience
in New York. It was during the time when there were acts of civil disobedience
across the USA. It had been initiated by the sit-in at the South African
Consulate in Washington, DC of former Congressman Walter Fauntleroy,
Commissioner Berry, US Human Rights Commissioner and Randall Robinson,
who at the time was President of Tran Africa.
I appointed Councilman Charles Barron, who was my chief of staff at
the time, to coordinate the New York acts of civil disobedience. The
same readiness of the people to go to jail, I felt then, I felt after
Amadou Diallo was killed. We discussed the site where the action would
take place. Rev. Sharpton suggested One Police Plaza. 1200 people were
arrested and the rest is history.
Over the next few days on telephone and in meetings, we sharpen the
shutdown plan. Rev. Sharpton did most of the work in identifying sites.
He sent his staff out to each location, to observe the flow of traffic
and to project the potential impact. Then we evaluated the challenges
i.e. getting to the action sites from designated gathering places and
the response of police who might try to prevent our getting to the action
sites. We continued developing the strategies and defining our objectives.
On Tuesday, April 29th, at the headquarters of Union 1199 auditorium,
a packed audience intensely, passionately, involved themselves in the
meeting. For several hours they were allowed to make suggestions regarding
what action we should take. A parade of speakers came forward. From
the myriad of suggestions, five (5) actions were identified. It was
decided to form committees around the suggested actions. The actions
The committees were charged to bring back their recommendations on Thursday,
May 1st, 7pm, at the House of the Lord Church in Brooklyn.
To be continued…
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