As much as we sympathize with Mike Brown’s mother, Leslie McSpadden, and the deceased teenager’s entire family, no one REALLY knows what they are going through like someone who experienced such an enormous tragedy first hand. Nicole Paultre Bell was to marry her fiancee, Sean Bell, on November 25, 2006 but he was killed just hours before they were to walk down the aisle. Sean died at the hands of police after he and two friends were shot at 50 times by undercover New York police officers.
I spoke to Nicole about the recent deaths of several unarmed Americans (most notably Mike Brown, Eric Garner and John Crawford, III) as a result of the overuse of police force. The grief and frustration that these families are feeling is all too familiar to her.
“When you hear about a story, a family that has lost a loved one similar to the way we lost Sean, it only brings back and opens up those old wounds that have only been patched up from time.”
The officers responsible for Sean’s murder and the injury of his two friends received very little punishment. Three out of the five officers who fired on the group of African-American men were prosecuted and all of them were acquitted. Five of them were forced to retire and one was terminated. After 8 years Nicole is still seeking justice.
“These laws are not meant to protect people who are killed by police officers. In the United States of America it is almost impossible to prove malice against a police officer. We need our President, we need our federal government to get involved and make some changes here.”
“Sean and his friends, they were enjoying a bachelor party and they left. They weren’t doing anything wrong. So many policies were broken within the police department. You have undercover officers who are trained to stay in their role. There were so many policies broken and nothing happened. There was no criminal action against them.
“Eight years later we are still holding events and memorials and vigils in Sean’s memory. This fight continues.”
The fight is a tough one, which is why Nicole stresses the need to support the families who are grieving while fighting for justice.
“We have to support these families whether it be from near or far because we have to show the world that this is everyone’s issue. No matter what color you are this everyone’s issue. We all have to live in this society. This is where our children grow up. It’s horrific to turn on the news and see other families having to go through exactly what we’ve been through. It’s really said that this is still happening in this day and age.”
Most of the men killed in these recent incidents have left young children behind. Nicole says that one of the hardest things about losing Sean is looking into the eyes of their daughters who no longer have a daddy.
“I grew up a daddy’s girl. To this day I am still so close with my father. Just to know that Jada and Jordan won’t have that opportunity is really heartbreaking. They are now 11 1/2 and 8 years old. I’ve done my best to try and encourage them and let them know that this happened but your father will always watch over you. I’m doing my best to make sure that they grow up strong and intelligent and very aware and conscious of the world we live in.”
Although these situations happen more often than we know and there are too many victims to name, Nicole is happy to see the solidarity in the wake of these recent incidents.
“This is a national issue. It’s happening in New York, California, Missouri…It’s happening so many places so it’s everyone’s issue.”
“When you begin to see everyone standing up nationally and starting their own marches and their own rallies and their own protests because their fed up…A young boy was killed in broad daylight, shot in the street. We deserve justice. And I say we because this is a family now. A family of injustice, a family of victims who have been mistreated. If there is justice for one of these families, that means justice for everyone.”
And mainstream media’s villianization of the victims just adds insult to injury. Nicole’s pain was magnified by the things that were said about Sean after his murder. In her opinion, its just a means to distract us from the real issue.
“I’m thankful for outlets like yours where you allow people to really have a voice and tell their side of the story because so many times in main stream media you have the smokescreen that is being put up to distract people and try to get them to lose their focus.”
Nicole’s messages to the families who have been affected by this epidemic is clear. Justice is a fight that doesn’t come overnight but you are not alone.
“It’s a terrible club to a part of. It’s something that you would never wish on your worst enemy but the world is watching. You’re not alone. There are families who’ve been through what you’ve been through and we are all standing with you in your time of need. We have to remember that the ultimate judge is the man above. So no matter what happens in the justice system, one day everyone has their turn with GOD. So I encourage these families to stay strong and keep positive memories and positive influences around them because you need people around you for the long haul. Justice doesn’t come overnight. I encourage everyone to support these families and pray for these families. Don’t get distracted by what you hear. A young boy was murdered in the middle of the street while people watched and while another young boy crouched beside a car fearing for his life. Anyone who abuses their force and takes someones life as a result of it should be held accountable.”
After Sean’s death, Nicole started W.I.R.I.F. (When It’s Real, It’s Forever) to continue to seek justice for Sean. Go to www.WIRIF.org to get involved.