Black Friday marked the five-year anniversary of the death of Sean Bell, who was fatally gunned down by New York City police officers in Queens, New York, on what was supposed to be his wedding day. The shooting had led to many investigations into police brutality and also prompted new NYPD protocol.
“If only those men would have done what they’re supposed to do instead of shooting up a neighborhood, none of us would be here. Families have been torn apart because of this loss,” said Nicole Paultre Bell, the woman he was supposed to marry.
And while many Americans were storming retailers for Black Friday deals, Nicole Bell, along with family, friends and concerned citizens, gathered at 94 Street and Sean Bell Way to memorialize him.
Nicole changed her name to Bell nearly two weeks after the shooting in order to “honor the memory” of her fiancé.
On Nov. 25, 2006, Sean Bell and his friends were at his bachelor party at the Kalua strip club in Queens. Witnesses said that around 4 a.m. — closing time — an argument broke out as Bell and his friends left the club. A group of detectives were undercover inside the Kalua investigating prostitution. One of the detectives believed that one of the men (Joseph Guzman) was going to get a gun from Bell's car, so he followed the men and called for backup. Bell, Guzman and Trent Benefield got into the car, with Bell at the wheel. The detectives drew their weapons, said Guzman and Benefield, who testified they never heard the plainclothes detectives identify themselves as police. Bell was in a panic to get away from the armed men, his friends testified. But the detectives, according to their lawyers, thought Bell was trying to run down one of them, believing their lives were in danger, and started shooting. Detective Michael Oliver, who reloaded his semiautomatic in the middle of the fray, fired 31 times, while Officer Gescard Isnora fired 11 times and Detective Mark Cooper, whose leg was brushed by Bell's moving car, fired four times, the NYPD said. A total of 50 bullets were fired at Bell and his friends by the police, killing Sean Bell and injuring his two friends. No gun was found in or near Sean Bell’s car. The officers were brought up on charges and later acquitted.
Since that tragic night Sean Bell’s would-be wife has held an annual candle light vigil at the very same spot he was killed. And at or around the exact time, 4:10 am, a bell is rung 50 times to symbolize the 50 shots police fired that night.
The sound of the bell has a profound effect on Ms. Bell as she reflects on what could have been. “You think of everything that unfolded. Just thinking about what was going through Sean’s mind, you know… [he] just came out that night to celebrate his wedding, to celebrate a new life, you know, and end[ed] up losing his life. I just think about all of the good things that were supposed to happen, that wasn’t able to happen because of the actions that those men took. What was going through my mind is sitting through those trials hearing his friends talk about it and everyone that was there. I replay it, I can see it exactly, and knowing Sean as close as I did, I just know that he didn’t deserve it. And watching the whole scene unfold in my mind, that’s what was really going on when the bell was ringing.”
Nicole is keeping herself busy with community work with her foundation, called When It’s Real It’s Forever, an afterschool program that provides mentoring for children and assistance to families and communities in need.
And as Nicole Bell raises the two daughters she and Bell had together, she says that the pain of that night will always be with her. “It never goes away and since he’s been gone things have not gotten easier, it’s hard … everyday is a struggle.”
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