The Rev. Al Sharpton urged Congress on Friday to set up a special prosecutors unit within the Justice Department in the aftermath of the shooting deaths of two unarmed men by New York police. Sharpton and family members of the two men met with House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (news, bio, voting record), D-Mich., to discuss issues involving police accountability. Sharpton said lawmakers should consider legislation to create a special office within Justice to help remove any politics from investigations of police-related shootings.
“In many cases they may not rule the police are wrong but at least the community does not feel it was compromised,” Sharpton said in an interview. Sean Bell, 23, was killed and two of his friends were wounded in a 50-bullet barrage last year hours before Bell’s wedding. The shooting followed his bachelor party at a strip club where the officers were conducting an undercover operation in response to complaints about prostitution.
A Queens grand jury has indicted two officers on manslaughter charges and a third officer on a misdemeanor endangerment charge. The officers have pleaded not guilty. Union representatives and lawyers for the officers have said their clients were convinced that Bell and his friends were going to retrieve a gun from his car to settle a dispute and that Bell slammed his car into two unmarked police vehicles while trying to flee.
Sharpton was joined on Capitol Hill by Nicole Paultre Bell, who was engaged to Bell and legally took his name after he died, and Katherine Arzu, whose father, Fermin Arzu, was killed by an off-duty police officer in the Bronx last month. Arzu, a Honduran immigrant, was unarmed when he was killed. Conyers said the two cases were “part of a larger national pattern that deserves federal attention. We are saying that most police officers are good, but for those who commit crimes, they should be held accountable.”