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Protesters Arrested In NY Shooting Protest

by Edith Honan

NEW YORK - Civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton and dozens of others were arrested on Wednesday for stopping traffic to protest the acquittal of policemen who killed an unarmed black man with 50 shots on his wedding day.

Hundreds of protesters snarled rush-hour traffic at bridges and tunnels around New York City in a civil disobedience campaign called by Sharpton, who has been close to the slain man's family since the November 2006 shooting.

A police spokesman said "a couple dozen" people were arrested. A spokeswoman for Sharpton put the number at 190.

Last month, a state judge cleared two detectives of manslaughter and a third of reckless endangerment in the death of Sean Bell, 23, in a case that outraged New York's black community.

Bell's fiancee and two of his friends who survived the shooting were arrested along with Sharpton, who called on federal prosecutors to bring civil rights charges.

In the main protest, about 30 people knelt and prayed outside City Hall, blocking one of the streets that leads to the Brooklyn Bridge.

"We are holding you all under arrest for disorderly conduct," police announced before handcuffing Sharpton and at least 30 other people. They put up little or no resistance as they were led to police vans, cuffed by plastic strips.

"We are all Sean Bell" the demonstrators shouted.

Some people signed up to be arrested, including Lexine Odom, 47, a mother of three sons, one of whom recently returned from military service in Iraq.

"I have three sons and Sean Bell could have been one of them," Odom said. "To say not guilty is unfair, it was unfair to everyone unfair to the family."

The Justice Department, federal prosecutors and the FBI are reviewing the case and could take legal action if investigators suspect a violation of federal civil rights laws.

A decade ago, Sharpton organized similar demonstrations after four police officers who fired 41 shots were acquitted in the death of an unarmed West African man, Amadou Diallo. Dozens were arrested then, including Sharpton.

Editing by Daniel Trotta

© 2008 Reuters

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