In the middle of the crowd that marched from Medgar Evers College this afternoon to protest the killing of Sean Bell, there was a sign taped to a young woman’s backpack that read, “You could be next. Do you care?!!!”
At least a couple hundred students apparently did, leaving an on-campus rally (from which the media were barred) and marching up Franklin Avenue and along Eastern Parkway chanting “50â€¦shots! 50 â€¦ shots!” But it was a school day, and so despite the posters calling for a protest to “another black man kill by police,” some skipped the march. “No, baby, I gotta write my business plan,” replied one girl when a friend asked if she was marching. But non-attendance didn’t mean disinterest. Donald, a clean-cut type who shared with many of his classmates a Caribbean accent, said he’s been stopped a few times by the police when walking down the street—asked where he was going and why. It bothered him. But he couldn’t march; he had a 2 p.m. class he didn’t want to miss.
Anyone expecting the outrage over Saturday’s police killing to die down might be out of luck: Today’s small march in Brooklyn, which drew dozens of high school students along the route, was just a warm-up for a rally next Wednesday afternoon in front of One Police Plaza where, word was, there will be civil disobedience, just as in the days following the 1999 shooting of Amadou Diallo.
Louima, Diallo, Dorismond, Bell—the rallies sort of blend into each other, with “No Justice, No Peace” their common soundtrack. But the activists at Medgar Evers who organized Wednesday’s walkabout tried to put a specific stamp on this episode of outrage: They kept stressing the number of bullets. “The main thing is the 50 shots. That’s what we’re focusing on,” said student government president Jonathan Maitre, propping himself up against a wrought-iron fence to address the crowd. “We’re not saying all cops are bad, but we need to get rid of the bad ones.” He offered to give students a note if they missed class for the march. Then he led the crowd in counting from one to 50.
“Medgar Evers was fighting this same thing,” Maitre said later as he led the march east on Eastern Parkway. “So we feel we have to be in the forefront.” He’s trying to get the school closed down for next week’s rally.
Much about the shooting remains unknown, and the marchers acknowledged that. But they insist that what they know so far is enough to be pretty pissed about. “50 shots?” said one dread-headed dude, who slipped into the crowd before he offered his name. “To me, that sounds like murder.” (This echoed the cover story of the CaribNews, available in the Medgar Evers lobby, which blared “Tragedy in Queens—Intent Suggests MURDER.” Inside the paper, Rep. Greg Meeks lays out a detailed legal argument for how the officers might be charged with second degree murder.) If the tables were turned, and Sean Bell had been accused of shooting a cop on Saturday, Maitre said, the pro-cop people in town wouldn’t be waiting for a grand jury indictment either.
On the NYPD Rant, a website where cops can anonymously post their opinions on issues within and without the largest law enforcement agency in the Western World, there’s been a lot of traffic about the Bell shooting. One of the cops’ beefs with the media is that not enough attention has been paid to the criminal records of the men who were shot.
What bearing that has on the case is unclear. What was clear on Wednesday, as the crowd circled back to campus, was that the crowd feels cops have a record, too. The message was: “Indict the police!” “Fire Ray Kelly!” And keep Wednesday the Sixth free.