A year after the verdict that acquitted three officers responsible for shooting 50 bullets, which killed Sean Bell and severely wounded two of his friends, a forum attempted to move the community forward.
“One year ago today, I had to be carried out of the court room. I was confused and the pain was unbearable,” said Nicole Paultre Bell, the young fiancée who adopted Bell’s last name posthumously. “In order to go on for my daughters, I needed to provide them with a mother that would not be bitter,” said Paultre Bell.
The 1st Annual Sean Bell Forum on Minority Men and the Police, which took place on Saturday, April 25 at York College in Jamaica, brought together civil rights leaders, law enforcement officials, community activists and the families of Sean Bell and Nicole Paultre Bell. According to organizers, young people needed to understand their rights and responsibilities if and when stopped by the police, while the New York Police Department (NYPD) needed to be held accountable for its interactions with the community.
Panelists included Leroy Gadsen, of the NAACP, King Downing, attorney and activist, Inspector Michael A. Blake of 103rd Precinct, Sandy Rubinstein, an attorney and forum moderator Michael Hardy, an attorney.
Reverend Al Sharpton, who has been at the side of the Paultre and Bell families since the shooting, acknowledged that the families and the community still felt the pain of his death but that a year later they had begun to heal.
“Last year we were angry, this year we are still angry but we’ve managed to channel this anger into something that benefits the community,” Sharpton said. “I wonder where [Michael] Paladino is today? I bet he’s not trying to heal the community,” he said in reference to the president of the Detectives Endowment Association.
One of the messages the forum aimed to get across – how to react when stopped by a police officers – was portrayed by a group of young actors that acted out a ‘stop and arrest.’ According to Michael Claxton, a former police officer and member of 100 Black in Law Enforcement, the main objective of young black and Latino men is to “survive the interaction,” and as such they should “do everything the police officer tells you to do, not because you are soft or you are a punk but because your number one job is to survive.”
The forum also brought more attention to the request to the City Council by the Bell and Paultre families to rename a block on Liverpool Street, where Bell died, after him. Community Board 12 has already voted in favor.
Joseph Guzman, one of the survivors of the shooting the night of Bell’s bachelor party at Club Kalhua, said, “And to the City Council, they [the officers] got away with murder, don’t let them get away with disrespect too.”