“Nov 25, 2016, marks the 10-year anniversary for Sean Bell,” said Valerie Bell, mother of the slain unarmed 23-year-old father of two young girls, who was shot dead in a hail of 50 police bullets as he left his bachelor party in the early morning of his wedding day Nov. 25, 2006. Speaking from London’s Oxford Union this week, Bell urged New Yorkers to come and join her, the family and supporters. “Come and join [us] in being a voice 10-years later on Sean Bell Way (formerly known as Liverpool Street between 94th Avenue and 95th Avenue in Jamaica),” she said. “We will be there from 3 p.m. until 7 p.m. Bring your voice.”
The Sean Bell case polarized the issue of police excessive use of force and shined a light on their poor relations with a Black community all too used to marching and protesting their deadly tactics. Feb. 4, 1999, Amadou Diallo, 22, was shot at 41 times by four New York police officers as he stood in the front door of his home on Webster Avenue in the Bronx. Thereafter the names Kenneth Boss, Sean Carroll, Edward McMellon and Richard Murphy became synonymous with police brutality. The killing and subsequent acquittals caused mass civil unrest and protests that were to be repeated again in the wake of the Bell killing and acquittal in Queens, of detectives Mike Oliver, Michael Cooper and Gescard Isnora, who fired a 50-bullet barrage at an unarmed Sean Bell, Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield, killing Bell mere hours before his wedding.
Thousands of Black and Brown folk marched for weeks. Notables such as the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rep. Charles Rangel, the Rev. Al Sharpton and actress Susan Sarandon found themselves being arrested at One Police Plaza, while hundreds more walked the city streets to register their outrage. The ensuing trial added insult to injury when not one of the cops was convicted. Protesting the acquittals in 2008, hundreds of demonstrators were arrested for the May 7 traffic-stopping protests in Brooklyn and Manhattan, including elected officials Charles and Inez Barron, and 78-year-old grandmother Amy Olatunji, widow of the late international master drummer Babatunde Olatunji.
The bitter after-taste is something cities have been forced by unjust circumstance to get used to before, during and after this sensational case. The national list of police shooting and excessive force deaths is a long a tragic one, including Randy Evans, Amadou Diallo, Aswan Watson, Kevin Cedano, Timothy Stansbury, Oscar Grant, Sandra Bland, Malcolm Ferguson, Rekia Boyd, Shem Walker, Patrick Dorismond, Ousmane Zongo, Tamir Rice, Timothy Stansbury, Iman Morales, Ronald Battle, Raynette Turner, Jason Tirado, Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Akai Gurley, Omar Edwards and John Collado.
Ten years after the horrific killing of Bell, family, friends and supporters will be hosting a community gathering and a memorial candlelight vigil at the Queens site where he was gunned down.
His parents William and Valerie are hosting a meet and greet as she reads excerpts from her book, “Sean Bell—Just 23—A Voice Ten Years Later.” There will be an open mic and a Q and A session. Bell’s then fiancée, Nicole Paultre, fought and won the right to add Bell to her surname. She is hosting a remembrance event on Sean Bell Way on the night of Nov. 24 from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. She is asking participants to bring white candles. A bell will be rung 50 times at 4 a.m. in his memory. Speakers are welcome. From 8 p.m. to 10 p.m., Nov. 25, the Bowl for Justice event will take place at Bowl 360 (98-18 Rockaway Blvd., Ozone Park, Queens, Comunity@wirif.org).