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Congressman Conyers Holds Forum On Police Action

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House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers and other lawmakers called for justice and accountability at a Monday forum in Lower Manhattan on police-community relations in the wake of the Sean Bell case.

Sean Bell's fiancŽe, Nicole Paultre-Bell, his friends Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield, and his parents were among those attending the forum, which began just after 12:30 p.m. at the U.S. Customs House downtown.

The nearly two-dozen lawmakers and civil rights leaders at the forum said they hope to make meaningful legislative changes that would restore the trust and faith of New Yorkers in the city's police department.

"What we want to do is come up with a better way to solve the problem of lawless police officers and the high number of people of color who always seem to get misused, misunderstood," said Conyers.

"You don't have to be an expert to know that when a community loses confidence in its police department, that police department cannot effectively do its job," said Congressman Charles Rangel.

"Judge Cooperman's decision must not be the end of the quest for justice," said Congressman Gregory Meeks of Queens. "We who are members of the United States Congress must realize and utilize our legislative powers and the moral authorities of our offices, to help the victims of unwarranted and excessive use of force seek and redress grievances at a federal level."

The meeting had a one-sided witness list that one by one offered criticism of the NYPD.

"We bring you back here today to our city because we are under siege again from our own New York City Police Department," said Hazel Dukes of the NAACP.

"There needs to be change now in New York, not only New York, but all over this world," said Bell's mother, Valerie. "Police should be treated as citizens are treated when they commit a crime."

They also offered ways to combat police misconduct.

The Reverend Al Sharpton proposed taking away federal funds from local police departments if cases of police brutality arise.

That would be a tough sell in Congress and with local departments.

Several of the speakers also blasted the NYPD for failing to send top officials to the forum.

"If you say that we won't fund police departments -- that we won't fund departments that won't bring police back in line, just like the Powell Amendment was the forerunner to the civil rights act and the Voter Rights Act, that kind of amendment would make commissioners show up at hearings," said Sharpton.

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly did not show up. Organizers said they invited him, but Kelly's spokesman disputed that.

In a statement, the NYPD defended its practices, saying with five district attorneys and two U.S. attorneys, additional oversight is unnecessary.

Conyers, who organized the meeting, visited Queens last month to meet with Bell's family shortly after the not-guilty verdicts for the officers who shot him in November 2006 as he was leaving his bachelor party in Queens.

This is not the first time Conyers has put the spotlight on police community relations in New York City. He held a hearing on the NYPD in 1983 at a Harlem armory after the beating of a Black minister by police.

Conyers also plans to hold another related hearing in Washington.
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