Groom Slay: Don’t Intimidate Witnesses

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(Urban League chief asks for Justice Department intervention).

We are calling for the immediate intervention by the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division to investigate reports of witness intimidation and harassment surrounding the case of the recent police shooting death of 23-year-old Sean Bell, as friends and family laid him to rest in Jamaica, Queens.

Our hearts go out to family and friends of the victims of this unfortunate tragedy, and we have the sincerest hopes and wishes for the full recovery of those injured. We commend the leadership of the Reverend Al Sharpton in quickly rallying the community around the egregious nature of the incident and urging Mayor Michael Bloomberg to meet with Sean Bell's family and community leaders. The mayor did the right thing by doing so. However, we cannot condone the police's treatment of the victims' friends and family in their search for the elusive gun and fourth man in a tan jacket who allegedly fled the shooting scene.

According to The New York Times, police raided a Jamaica apartment complex in their quest to find the elusive fourth man with the alleged gun who prompted police to open fire on Bell's car, killing him and injuring two other men.

In the process, they arrested four people, three men and one woman, and brought them in for questioning. According to media reports, one of the men they brought in -- Erskine Williams Jr. -- is a friend of the victims and son of Bishop Erskine Williams, Sr., raising the specter of witness intimidation.

Also, in their search for evidence that could possibly vindicate the undercover cops who showered Bell's party with a hail of 50 bullets, they're neglecting their obligation to right the injustice possibly done to the victims.

All too often excessiveness of force exhibited by police in New York City has been borne out in the minority community. This tragedy seems to be yet another in a long string of incidents in which black men end up dead for an infraction that might only merit a ticket.

It seems like it's getting to a point where educating our children on how to survive their communications with the police will be commonplace because so many of our young men have ended up dead because of miscommunication with authorities.
National Urban League, established in 1910, is the nation's oldest and largest community-based movement devoted to empowering African Americans to enter the economic and social mainstream.

Today, the National Urban League, headquartered in New York City, spearheads the non-partisan efforts of its local affiliates. There are over 100 local affiliates of the National Urban League located in 35 states and the District of Columbia providing direct services to more than 2 million people nationwide through programs, advocacy and research.

Morial is National Urban League President and Davis is New York Urban League President.

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