NEW YORK – As a black man killed in a police shooting was buried Saturday, several hundred people observed a moment of silence near the Queens nightclub where officers fired 50 shots at the slain man and two friends hours before the victim's scheduled wedding.
The crowd near the strip club Kalua in the Jamaica section stood silent in memory of Sean Bell, who was remembered one night earlier at a funeral in same church where his wedding would have occurred one week ago.
"Fifty shots from the New York cops!" the crowd chanted before the moment of silence. The group had marched from the front of the nightclub to the spot abound the corner where the shooting took place.
"We didn't come here to start any violence," said Malik Zulu Shabazz, a black nationalist leader. "The New York police started the violence."
The rally was peaceful, although some in the crowd held signs reading "Death to the pigs" and "Shoot back." It began after Bell, 23, was buried in Port Washington on Long Island.
On Friday, hundreds of tearful mourners paid their respects to Bell in the same church where he was to have married his high school sweetheart just one week earlier.
"They took his life, but we can't let them take his legacy," the Rev. Al Sharpton said to cheers and "Amens" from the overflow crowd at the Community Church of Christ. "We must give Sean a legacy. A legacy of justice, a legacy of fairness. We don't hate cops. We don't hate race. We hate wrong."
Outside the Baptist church, hundreds of mourners listened to the funeral on loudspeakers. Some wore T-shirts depicting Bell's picture; others held up signs reading "Justice for Sean Bell."
Bell was killed and two of his friends were wounded after leaving a bachelor party early Nov. 25, hours before the planned wedding. All three were unarmed.
Police have said that Bell's vehicle hit an officer and a police minivan, and police apparently feared one man in the group was about to get a gun. The victims were black; the five officers were black, Hispanic and white.
Officers have raided at least one home, picked up witnesses for such offenses as unpaid tickets and scoured vacant lots in an effort to find a potential witness and perhaps a missing gun.
Police critics on Friday warned of a backlash: They said the search has created a climate of fear in a community already outraged by the shooting.
They said police have concocted a "phantom gunman" in a desperate effort to show that officers were justified in opening fire.
"This kind of police conduct is frightening, and it serves as a chilling impact on those witnesses who want to come forward and simply tell what they saw, what they heard, so that justice can be served," said Charlie King, an attorney who said he represents several potential witnesses.
Police union officials have suggested a fourth man was with Bell, Benefield and Guzman and may have fled with a gun.
Police said earlier this week that clues gathered during a raid on a Queens apartment known for drug dealing indicated that one witness, identified as 27-year-old Jean Nelson, may have been with the victims before the shooting.
Nelson, who was detained Thursday but released, was an eyewitness to the shooting and said police fired without warning, King said. However, he "did not have a gun, nor was he in the car as police have suggested," the lawyer added.
The hospitalized survivors also have said through their lawyer that no fourth person was involved. The survivors' lawyers planned a news conference later Saturday.