In a ceremony this week, one block of a street in Jamaica was renamed in honor of a man who was killed by police nearly four years ago. Sean Bell was shot down in a hail of 50 bullets hours before he was to be married.
Although we know of nothing Sean Bell, a Richmond Hill native, accomplished in his 23 years on this earth, we hope the renaming of a section of Liverpool Street will be some consolation to those in southeast Queens who were horrified by this tragedy. City Councilman Leroy Comrie believes the renaming he fought for is a historic step for the community.
We hope the ceremony will bring closure to Bell’s family, in particular for his fiancee, who demonstrated courage and dignity throughout the ordeal that followed his death. She easily could have fanned the flames of anger and resentment, but did not.
We do not believe, as some have suggested, that the killing of Sean Bell was the result of racism inherent in the NYPD. What happened that night was the result of several factors coming together at a seedy bar in a crime-ridden neighborhood. Nevertheless, the shooting highlighted the strained relation between the police and the black community.
On the night Bell was killed, undercover officers were inside the bar looking for perps selling drugs and guns. It was a dangerous assignment. Outside the bar, uniformed officers waited as backup. Bell and his friends left the bar after a fight and the police believed one of the people with Bell was going for a gun.
The killing of Sean Bell was a tragic accident. The renaming of a street in his honor is a reminder that the NYPD still has work to do to convince the community that they are on the same side.
We are of two minds about street renamings in general. Sadly, it normally is not long before people forget who the person was and why a street was named after him or her. And the renamings sometime create confusion because the street now has two names.
On the other hand, it is a small gesture that does not cost much. If the renaming of a street brings a measure of comfort to the community, it is worth the effort.
©2010 Community News Group
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