11.26.06 Sean Bell Gunned Down
By Police After Leaving Bachelor Party - pending
Crowd unites in grief,
outrage over shooting
Tensions reverberate in New York City after police
officers kill an unarmed man leaving his bachelor party.
By Ellen Barry, Times Staff Writer
November 27, 2006
NEW YORK — Outside Mary Immaculate Hospital in Queens on
Sunday, the bride rested her tear-streaked face on the
Rev. Al Sharpton's shoulder. Hundreds of angry mourners
shouted out the numbers from 1 to 50, to indicate the
number of gunshots fired by police Saturday when Sean
Bell was killed as he left his bachelor party.
"Kelly must go," shouted some in the crowd, referring to
New York Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly. New York
City Councilman Charles Barron promised "an explosion in
the community," and said "every one of those police
officers should be in jail for the rest of their lives,
and after they die, they should go straight to hell."
The scene was reminiscent of racially tinged flare-ups
that have roiled the city over the years. But those
tensions had subsided in Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's
New York, a gentrifying city where crime had fallen off
the front page.
Councilman James Sanders Jr. called it "the Bloomberg
effect" — the period of calm that entered as Rudolph W.
Giuliani stepped down as mayor — but said Bell's
shooting might mark a turning point.
"That honeymoon only lasts so long, and I say that as a
supporter of Bloomberg," said Sanders, who represents a
district in Southeast Queens. "It's just striking
everyone, this idea of being killed on your wedding day.
It's reminding people of their own family. Under these
conditions, people are going to pay attention."
Bell, 23, who was to be married Saturday night, was shot
to death about 4 a.m. Saturday as he left a nightclub
with two friends after his bachelor party. The shots
were fired by five undercover officers documenting
narcotics and prostitution at the club, police said.
Bell was shot in the arm and neck, and was pronounced
dead at Jamaica Hospital. Joseph Guzman, 31, was in
critical condition with 11 gunshot wounds, and Trent
Benefield, 23, shot three times, was in stable
condition; both were at Mary Immaculate Hospital.
Kelly told reporters Saturday that the undercover
officers believed that a patron was armed and that a
gunfight was imminent. Eight men including Bell, Guzman
and Benefield left the club and began to argue with
another man, the police commissioner said. According to
Kelly, an undercover officer heard Bell make a threat
and heard Guzman say, "Yo, go get my gun." Bell then got
into a Nissan Altima with Guzman, Benefield and a fourth
man, police said.
Kelly continued: As Bell began to drive away, an
undercover officer approached Bell's car, and a police
minivan rounded the corner. Bell's car struck the
officer and then the minivan. At that point, Kelly said,
the officers shot at the car. No guns were found in the
The five undercover officers involved in the shooting
were put on administrative leave Sunday and stripped of
their firearms pending an investigation by the Queens
district attorney, said police spokesman Paul Browne.
About 400 people gathered across from Mary Immaculate on
Sunday to hear speeches from community leaders. In the
crowd was Bell's fiancee, Nicole Paultre. Tears trickled
down the face of their 3-year-old daughter, Jordyn. At
one point, a woman began wailing, interrupting the
speeches. She was led away from the crowd.
"We are here because this could have been us," Sharpton
said. "We've got to understand that all of us were in
Councilman Barron called for Kelly to resign. Sanders
was more circumspect but said that anger over police
tactics had been building up in his district. Bloomberg,
he said, will be under "enormous pressure" to support
"Err on the side of caution, Mr. Mayor," Sanders said.
"You saw just about every elected official in Southeast
Queens here saying that this case stinks."
All afternoon, mourners referred to incidents that had
racked relations between minority communities and New
York's power structure. One was the 1999 killing of
Amadou Diallo, an unarmed African immigrant who was shot
19 times by police in the entryway to his apartment
building. Diallo had been reaching for his wallet, but
the officers said they believed he was drawing a gun.
The four officers charged in the case were acquitted.
Sharpton recalled a 1986 beating in which white men
attacked a group of black men whose car had broken down
in Howard Beach, Queens. One of the black men ran onto a
road, where he was fatally hit by a car. In that case,
Sharpton advised the surviving victims not to cooperate
with investigators and demanded a special prosecutor.
Eventually, he got his wish.
For many in the crowd, the details of Saturday's
shooting were too fresh to put into historical context.
Czanell McCray, who knew Bell's family from church, was
pained to think of what the 23-year-old was to do
Saturday: marry the mother of his two daughters in front
of 200 guests.
"It's like all the good guys, all the guys that are
motivating themselves, improving themselves, and look
what happens," McCray said.
Sharon Fulton stood opposite the hospital's emergency
room, still stunned. Her sister, a friend of the groom's
mother, had baked three cakes for the wedding — white
cakes with delicate black flowers, to go with the
event's black-and-white theme. Those cakes were her
connection to Bell and his fiancee, until Saturday:
"When I called my sister and asked what time she was
going to deliver the cakes, she said, 'He's dead.' "