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Syracuse's National Action Network calls for independent review of Father’s Day shooting

Tom Magnarelli
The crowd at the Foundation of Life Church.

The Syracuse National Action Network and many in the city's African American community are calling for an independent review into what happened at a cookout event on Syracuse's Near West Side that turned into a shooting on Sunday. Many questions remain as to why one man was killed and a police officer discharged her gun.

A cousin of 41-year-old Gary Porter, the man who was shot and killed at the party, described him as a good man who took care of his kids. She was among the more than 100 people that came to the Foundation of Life Church Tuesday on Syracuse’s south side demanding answers to what happened that night. Some witnesses said it was a police officer that shot and killed Porter and injured his fiancé.

The Syracuse Police Department, the Onondaga County District Attorney’s office and the New York State attorney general’s office are still investigating the shooting and said at least four different guns were fired.

Late Wednesday night, Syracuse police released the name of the officer involved in the shooting. A police department spokesman says Officer Kelsey Francemone responded to a call of a person down, and when she arrived, she heard gunshots. The spokesman said Francemone ran toward the gunshots and at some point, fired her handgun. Tests are still being conducted to determine if anyone was hit by Francemone's shot. Francemone is on administrative leave from the department while the investigation is ongoing, whcih police say is standard procedure. 

But Twiggy Billue of Syracuse’s National Action Network said the community needs answers now.

"Tonight was a night for us to talk about our community, Was a night for us to let the community know that there are people on their side that are going to ask for the answers," Billue said. "We're not going  to take no for answer and we're not going to do business as usual. One thing that we don’t want to take is the time that is taken in other places, with Tamir Rice and others, six months, nine months, 12 months, no grand jury investigation, no anything. We are prepared tonight not to face what others in other communities have faced by organizing.”

Billue is calling on the New York Civil Liberties Union and the Citizens Review Board to assist in an independent review.

“I’m asking us to organize together, if we want to march to city hall we can do that, if we want to march to the police department we can do that," Billue said. "But we have to have a cause and a purpose and an end result because I’m not marching for me. I’m marching for this family over here.”

Officers and bystanders were also injured during the shooting including a 15-year-old girl who broke her neck. Some in the audience at the meeting said they do not trust the police and that witnesses are afraid to come forward with information. But the Syracuse Police Department said it can take information anonymously.

Billue said she and a representative from the NYCLU will take names and statements from witnesses on Thursday.

Talina Jones with the NYCLU said the African American community is standing together.

"We know that the community doesn't trust in the internal processes of a police department that has been charged to protect and serve and nobody feels safe when they're around," Jones said. "Independent review for an organization that the community which they're supposed to be protecting and serving doesn't feel protected or well served."

The Syracuse National Action Network will meet again Saturday to plan potential protests.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.