The Rev. Al Sharpton is taking his civil disobedience to the field, the baseball field that is. The leader of the National Action Network is threatening to disrupt the 2008 All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium next month unless the state passes laws to deal with and prevent police misconduct.
The annual game will be in its 75th year on July 15, when it is scheduled to be played. Players from both the National League and the American League will take the field in the historic match-up. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and MLB Commissioner Bud Selig announced that the game would be played at Yankee Stadium in late January.
Published reports indicate that Sharpton wants to bring the Sean Bell verdict to the national spotlight and said the act of civil disobedience won’t take place unless [[EDITOR: SHOULDN’T THIS BE “IF” INSTEAD OF “UNLESS”?]] legislative action occurs. Sharpton would not say what the nature of the protest would be at Yankee Stadium, but said it would be “very dramatic.” The act is symbolic, according to Sharpton, because Bell was an aspiring baseball player.
“We have been and will continue to work with city officials and community leaders to ensure a great All-Star experience,” said MLB director of multi-cultural and charitable communications, Silvia Alverez.
Bell was shot in a hail of bullets in November of 2006 in front of a nightclub in Queens. He was killed by three NYPD officers who thought he had a weapon, but one was not found. The officers were acquitted on charges of manslaughter and reckless endangerment in April by State Supreme Court Justice Arthur Cooperman. Since the verdict, Sharpton has led acts of civil disobedience, most recently in May when several protesters stopped traffic throughout the city.
In conjunction with the announcement of the act of civil disobedience, federal and state legislators are asking for stricter policies on police misconduct. At a press conference at City Hall on Sunday, a group called the Tri-Level Legislative Taskforce that includes the Bell family and Rep. Gregory Meeks, Sen. Eric Adams released the “Report on Improving Public Confidence in Law Enforcement in Our Criminal Justice System.” After a year of public hearings, the task force presented the findings for recommendation to legislation.
New York City Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum said, “The hearings gave New York officials an opportunity to come together to find ways to strengthen community-police relations. When tragedy strikes and New Yorkers like Sean Bell are killed, we must make sure the wrongs are righted for the future.”
The 32-page report highlights 15 suggestions that the taskforce wants implemented by the NYPD, including more money for police training, drug testing of officers and videotaping police during questionable incidents. In response to the Bell shooting, the NYPD currently tests officers for alcohol after they open fire on suspects.
“We must enact laws that will restore the public’s faith in our law enforcement officials, ensure that officers are given the training and support they deserve, and bridge the divide between our communities and our police department,” said Smith [[EDITOR: WHO IS SMITH? NO FIRST NAME IS GIVEN.]], who co-chairs the task force.
In addition to the proposed agenda, the task force wants legislation to authorize the state general attorney to investigate and prosecute the alleged criminal offenses committed by police officers in connection with performance of their official duties. They also want the Division of State Police to secure and freeze the scene of a crime when allegations of police abuse are involved.
On June 15, a group that will include the Sharpton, Meeks, Bishop Lester Williams, the Bell family and several City Council members will hold the Journey to Justice March and Rally. The event will begin from four locations in Queens and proceed to Roy Wilkins Park. Marchers will gather at 10 a.m., with the rally beginning at noon.