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Sean Bell’s family and supporters turned out in heavy rain Tuesday to rename the Jamaica street where the Far Rockaway father was shot 50 times by police.
Elected officials, southeast Queens groups and other activists were on hand as Liverpool Street between 94th Avenue and 101st Street officially became “Sean Bell Way.”
Although the decision to change the name of the location was met with mixed reaction from neighborhood members, Bell’s fiancée, Nicole Paultre-Bell, who came with their two daughters, said it would serve as a way to let people know what happened and to prevent a similar act of brutality in the future.
“It’s still bittersweet because we wish he was here with us today, but the way the city has honored him, I don’t think it could get better,” she said. “This is a symbol of justice.”
The four-hour event, which took place on what would have been Bell’s 27th birthday, featured songs and poems by activists of all ages and included speeches from elected officials, such as City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans).
Bell’s mother, Valerie, said she was appreciative of the turnout because it showed people still cared about her family two years after the incident.
“It means a lot because the justice we didn’t get through the city for the police officers, we get a little bit of justice through the street renaming,” she said.
Bell, who was raised in Richmond Hill and living in Far Rockaway with his fiancée at the time of his death, was partying with friends on the night of Nov. 25, 2006, a day before his wedding, at the Kalua Cabaret. At the time the strip club was being investigated for suspected drug and prostitution operations.
An undercover officer claimed he saw Bell and his cronies get into an argument with another patron outside the club during the early morning hours of Nov. 26, and heard one of them say they were going to get a gun. The officer, Gescard Isnora, followed Bell, Trent Benefield and Joseph Guzman to the corner of Liverpool Street and 94th Avenue where the bridegroom parked his car.
When backup arrived in an unmarked police minivan, Bell rammed his Nissan Altima into the vehicle, which prompted Isnora and four others to fire 50 shots, killing Bell and seriously wounding the other two. Although Benefield and Guzman were arrested, no weapon was ever found.
Three of the undercover officers — Isnora, Michael Oliver and Marc Cooper — were indicted on manslaughter and reckless endangerment charges but acquitted in a bench trial two years ago. The entire undercover team has been named in a civil suit filed by Nicole Paultre-Bell, Guzman and Benefield and a Brooklyn Magistrate judge ordered Tuesday that a settlement hearing take place July 20.
When the family submitted an application to rename the street last year, some community members and elected officials objected to the motion. Community Board 12 Chairwoman Adjoa Gzifa, said she voted no on the measure because Bell did not live or work in the Jamaica neighborhood.
Comrie said that no matter what people thought about the shooting, they should pay their respects to the bridegroom’s family because they have been trying to curb youth violence in southeast Queens.
“You have to support the Bell family today because the Bell family has done a lot of positive things to help other young people,” he said.
Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.
©2010 Community Newspaper Group
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