NEW YORK – Thousands of protesters, counting in unison from one to 50 to mark the number of shots fired by police in the death of an unarmed black man last month, clogged Fifth Avenue on Saturday in a "Shopping for Justice" protest three weeks after the slaying and one week before the Christmas weekend.
Trent Benefield, 23, one of the survivors of the Nov. 25 shooting that killed Sean Bell, led the marchers from his wheelchair as they headed south through midtown Manhattan. He was encircled by bodyguards, and followed by a group of clergy and elected officials on one of the busiest shopping days of the year just nine days before Christmas.
"This is not just a New York City problem," said Democratic Congressman Charles Rangel of New York, who was near the front of the march. "This march gives people a chance to speak out."
Bell's fiancee, Nicole Paultre, was also among the marchers, as were U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner, city transit union president Roger Toussaint and human rights activist Bianca Jagger. The marchers started at 59th Street and finished their protest more than an hour later outside Macy's on 34th Street.
The demonstration expressed the protesters' outrage at the slaying of Bell, killed in the city's Queens borough just hours before his scheduled wedding. Five officers fired 50 shots at the 23-year-old Bell's car, killing him and wounding Benefield and another companion outside a strip club.
"It's important that the police understand that they're here to protect the people," said Larry Dais, a Columbia University administrator and father of a 21-year-old son.
Among those marching was James Canley, whose 25-year-old son Adrian was shot and killed last month by a sheriff's department detective in Thousand Oaks, California. He compared his son's death with the Bell shooting.
Other demonstrators waved signs and chanted as they marched. "Stop NYPD Racist Terror," read one sign. "Jail the Cops," said another.
The victims of the shooting were all black; the officers were white, Hispanic and black.
The march was organized by the Rev. Al Sharpton and other civil rights leaders, and was intended to contrast the slaying of Bell with the holiday spending spree along Manhattan's most famous shopping district. It was the latest in a series of demonstrations since the Bell shooting.
Police have said that undercover officers were conducting a vice operation at the strip club before the shooting, and they believed the victims were going to retrieve a gun — although no weapons were found. Police have also said Bell's car struck an officer and crashed into an unmarked police van.
But Sharpton and others say police used excessive force.