Nicole Bell (Sean Bell’s wife)
I’m interviewing Nicole Bell, The wife of the late Sean Bell. In this interview, we will try to uncover the controversies surrounding the story of her late husband Sean Bell’s death on November 26, 2006. We will discuss: the wrongful death; the charges: the Indictment and the aftermath.
SKII: Where did you grow up and what schools have you attended?
Nicole: I grew up in South Jamaica Queens where I attended John Adams High School. I met Sean Bell in John Adams High School. He was a star pitcher on the John Adams baseball team. We started dating from there.
Were you married to Sean before his death?
Nicole: Sean went to a bachelor party and that’s where unfortunately his life was taken. Usually the bachelor party takes place the day before but, it was the night before we were due to get married. It happened early in the morning, on the day we were supposed to get married.
How did you find out that Sean was killed?
Nicole: Well the bachelor party was given by his friends and some of my family members. I got a call in the middle of the night stating that something bad had happened to Sean. I didn’t know what. They just said come to the hospital. When I got to the hospital that’s when I found out that Sean had been shot by police and that he lost his life.
I understand the incident wasn’t started by him. They also tried to say he was drunk. How do you feel? What are your emotions in regards to what happened?
Nicole: I feel that he was celebrating what was supposed to be the happiest day of his life. In our society, everyone celebrates the day before their wedding. The undercover police officer broke his cover to follow and fire shots at Sean and his friends. He right then and there broke policy and it caused the worst day of my life. His actions affected Sean’s life and his friend’s lives permanently. I hear all the negative things that have been said over the years. I’ve lived so far past that. At this point, all I can do is hope and pray that one day those officers will be able to live with what they did. I also hope in the future, we can prevent policies from being broken and prevent people from losing their lives no matter what the situation is.
Each one of those officers fired shots into the vehicle Sean Bell was driving. Sean was fatally killed. What are your emotions about that?
Nicole: Joe Guzman, Sean’s friend was sitting in the passenger seat and he sustained 17 shots in his body and lived. He has permanent damage for the rest of his life but Sean was shot 4 times and he was killed ultimately. It’s a very hard thing to swallow and to understand but over these years I’ve been able to come to grips with it because living with that pain and living with not having any closure is something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Only three of the five officers were indicted because they fired over the “shoot three times and access” policy. At least that is what we were told. Isadora fired 11 times. Cooper fired 4 times and Oliver fired 31 of the 50 shots. So, all of those officers were indicted and they were all acquitted of all charges. There were 8 different charges ranging from Reckless Endangerment all the way to Manslaughter and they were found not guilty of all charges. That was also another hard tragedy for us. It was like they killed him all over again.
I understand you were arrested while protesting? Can you tell me a little about that?
Nicole: Over 200 people were arrested that day fighting for something we believed in. I was detained for 4 hours. I spent more time in jail than the officers did for killing Sean. It’s an injustice here in America and in the Nation to see. It’s the people versus the system. It shouldn’t be like that. The only thing that families like mine, is looking for is justice. Someone should have been held accountable for the killing, just like anyone else would have been. And it shouldn’t be because of the agency you work for or the career you have chosen but everyone should be held for their own actions. Everyone should be treated fairly and equal, no matter the circumstances. That’s what we did for civil disobedience. We stood up and we said “NOT TODAY!” That’s what I did and became detained for it. I don’t have any regrets for any of it.
They compared Sean’s death to Amadou Diallo’s death. Two(2) SEPARATE INCIDENTS. What are your insights?
Nicole: I feel that Sean’s death, his killing was the tragedy that rejuvenated the civil rights movement. Everyone came out. Everyone stood up. It was a reflection of what the civil rights movement used to be back in the early days. Amadou Diallo was shot 31 times in his hallway because of his wallet. No matter what the similarities are, ultimately, what everyone has in common is… “NO JUSTICE” That’s the reason why I’ve been so vocal. I’m trying to use my voice to help the voiceless. Mrs. Diallo, she has been fighting forever. Still today, I know Mrs. Diallo very well and we are still in contact with each other. We’re always supporting each other. There are other families who have been affected. Of course it’s something nobody wants to be a part of but, we have to stick together and find that real justice that we’ve been looking for.
In Eric Garner’s case and Michael Brown’s case, Officers Pataleo and Wilson, both were acquitted. That brought everything that I’ve gone through with Sean’s death to a full circle. It took me right back to that moment. It wasn’t equal or fair back then and it’s not equal or fair now. It’s not fair when it comes to the justice system. This is where the mistrust comes in between the community and the police. Everyone knows we need the police. It’s terrible to see what’s been happening in today’s news. No one wished that upon anyone. That was two lives lost. I can’t believe that two police officers lost their lives over the weekend. It’s unbelievable. I can imagine what his wife and children feel like because I know what that feels like. A life lost is a life lost. It doesn’t matter who you work for or who you are affiliated with. No one should be allowed to be the judge and jury and the executioner. NO ONE SHOULD BE ALLOWED TO BE THAT.
During that time, my children were so young. Jada was 3 years old and Jordyn was 5 months at that time. Now Jada is 12 years old and Jordyn is 8 years old. I didn’t explain to them how their dad (Sean) died. They were too young and besides it’s a conversation no parent wants to have. However, my oldest daughter is broken, still to this day. She was daddy’s little girl. There’s nothing like a little girl having a relationship with their father. I know this because I’m so close with my father. I don’t know what I’d do without him. So, that’s sort of the fuel that lights my fire. They will never have that daddy and daughter relationship. It’s very painful to me. That’s why I use my activism. I’m trying to avenge for my daughters so that one day when they get older, they would see that their mommy was strong and she fought back. They would say… My Mommy did it with peace in memory of Daddy.
The protesting for Eric Garner was peaceful in the beginning (his family always asked for peace). Now, it’s out of control. What’s your take on it?
Nicole: You have to remember, anytime there’s a protest, it’s going to be people from all walks of life. There’s going to be people who have different motivations, people with different agendas. The family of Eric Garner, have done nothing but call for peace, the entire time. Now, you have some people protesting who have their own agendas. You know there are some crazy people out there. Those people desire to go their own way. I know the families aren’t calling for violence. I know this because I’ve been around them. I know them. Everyone is coming from all walks of life. Everyone is not looking for the same outcome. I feel that everyone should look at the family’s agenda. Like the two officers who were killed in Brooklyn. That was a nightmare. It shouldn’t have happened. My heart, my love and my blessings goes out to their families. I know right now we are sharing similar pain. No one should have to lose a loved one that way, like mine, like theirs. No one should.
You’ve protested in New York while others have protested in Washington DC on the same day. Do you think the protests made a difference or an impact on anything?
Nicole: I hope that somebody somewhere who was watching or listening or was there has learned about what we’ve been through. We’ve endured (meaning everyone who have gone through this experience) the impact. If anyone should be upset by anything, it should be us. We’ve gone through it. So, we can carry ourselves with dignity and respect for ourselves. In our nation and our community, I hoped everyone can take something from the march and be inspired by it.
You were the person in charge of a panel of discussions between the community and the police in Staten Island (Mt. Sinai United Christian Church). Do you think that panel of discussions made a difference?
Nicole: Well, it’s an annual event that I do with my organization W.I.R.I.F. We thought it would be beneficial to sit down with the community on the memorial of Sean’s passing and also with the family of Eric Garner for what they’ve been through and for what they were about to go through. This organization was founded in 2007. It’s an organization that focuses on social awareness. We create programs and hosts events that surround justice, social justice and youth development. My organization is based out of Queens, NY. It’s a small grass roots organization. Most of the members of the board are either friends, family or people I have worked with in the past. My Mom is part of the organization. Her name is Laura Paultre. We go out to local schools, churches and throughout the Parks Department in the summertime. My organization, “Before we did that”, we had hoped the community would create a dialogue in hopes of preventing any other Sean Bell tragedies. We want to continue to grow and hopefully, partner up with other organizations or relations because this is something that can benefit everyone on both sides. Police Officers can make it home to their families as well as the community members.
We want everyone to be able to work together because we need the police as much as they need us. When we are in trouble; when our children are lost; when we just want to talk to them about making the community safer, we need the police. They need the community to make reports against bad people; when we tell them where the bad guy has gone; when we make positive I.D.’s on the bad guys; when we try to better our community. These are only examples of how the community and the police need each other. I tell my children to go to them if anything happens. The first thing I tell them is to find a police officer so they can help. There are so many other factors of how we need each other but these things have to happen in order for us to have a better impact upon each other.
You’ve campaigned to not have what has happened to your husband Sean Bell, happen to anyone else – but it has. Explain how you feel about that?
Nicole: Well. It’s an effort that is not going to change overnight or with one person, but with more than one person stepping up, we could hopefully come to a change where everyone is hoping for. We need everyone to start working together. No matter what color they are and no matter what type of uniform they have on. Everyone should have respect for each other because no one should have to lose their life.
What are your aspirations in life?
Nicole: At this time, I’m working through my organization W.I.R.I.F.. I’m also studying to become a civil rights attorney. I’m still in the pre-training stages of that and I still have some ways to go. I’m continuing to move forward. My number one aspiration in life is to raise my family in a safe environment and to be happy. That’s what I want.
To be so young and an activist, this is one woman whose headed in the right direction. Her life was turned around approximately 8 years ago and since then, she became the noise for those who are afraid to make noise. She is young, gifted, outspoken and definitely knows the direction she’s headed in. She’s Nicole Bell. She’s the self proclaimed “Voice for the Voiceless.”