The pews of Brown Memorial Baptist Church were filled last week in a town hall meeting to address the acquittal of three police officers in the killing of Sean Bell.
The three undercover cops were investigating drug and prostitution activity outside a Queens nightclub and wound up killing Bell, after firing 50 shots.
The three testified in court they thought Bell and his two cohorts were armed and dangerous.
The Queens verdict brought outrage and tears to many in the Fort Greene/Clinton Hill neighborhood, including Fort Greene Association (FGA) president Ursula Hegewisch.
Hegewisch called up City Councilmember Letitia James and community activist and 10th Congressional District candidate Kevin Powell to set up the meeting to collectively grieve and come up with positive actions to prevent similar events.
“When events like the tragedy of the killing of Sean bell occur, I once again realize that even though we may be blessed to live in beautiful, Technicolor, rainbow Fort Greene, we live in a house divided,” said Hegewisch at the church, 484 Washington Avenue.
“We like to think we did not build those walls but they are there,” she added.
James praised Hegewisch for her work in helping bridge any racial and socioeconomic divide that may exist in the area, and said she cried when she heard the Queens verdict.
“We as a community have to heal from the pain and address issues in the community, and dissect the criminal justice system and make suggestions and recommendations and solutions to prevent what happened that night from ever happening again,” said James.
Following a small speech from the panelists, which included Hegewisch, James, Powell, hip-hop artist and activist Ashanti Baptiste, Lafayette Presbyterian Church Pastor Rev. David Dyson and Museum of Contemporary Diaspora African Art Founder and Executive Director Laurie Cumbo, the floor was opened to participants to come up with positive action suggestions.
Among the suggestions was better distribution of pamphlets to youths that concern knowing your rights if police harass, stop or arrest them.
One person suggested the pamphlets should be distributed or even taught in public schools.
Another person suggested passing a law requiring pre-screening psychological tests for all police recruits entering the academy.
James said such a law can only be passed at the state level and not the city level.
Another person suggested that local restaurants that do not hire local young people of color should be boycotted.
Ingersoll Houses Tenant Association President Ed Brown said parents need to stay focused on raising their children right and the elders in the community need to mentor more youths.
Brown also said more advocacy work needs to be done regarding finding jobs for people in the local housing developments as gentrification is booming all around the Downtown Brooklyn area.
City Councilmember Bill de Blasio suggested that the NYPD’s Civilian Complaint Review Board needs strengthening so that complaints against police are taken more seriously.
Everybody in attendance was also asked to put their name and number on a sign-in list so they could be contacted later.
It was strongly suggested that networking between various civic organizations would go a long way toward local empowerment.
I feel it was a very positive meeting,” said Hegewisch. “People needed to feel that they could take away something positive and not just go to another event to get angry and then feel that nothing could be done.”