MN: Can you tell us a little bit about the Bell Bill that you tried to get passed and whether or not you believe that recent police shootings will possibly force lawmakers to revisit this?
Well pretty much in about 2007 or sometime after Sean was killed, there was a task force that was put together on the Senate level that was on the table to come into place if there was ever any type of police shooting. Some of them did come into place. One of them being the Breathalyzer exam, which is a policy that was put into place after one too many officers fired their weapons. Just like any other city job or city agency, if someone kills someone on the job, they’re automatically going to be tested to ensure that they’re not intoxicated. For example, if an MTA driver hits someone, he’s going to be tested.
Another one was for sensitivity training, which enabled cops to become more familiarized with their communities. There were several different policy changes, 19 of them.
Another was for a special prosecutor. Myself and some other family members who have been affected and lost their loved ones due to police shootings felt that when it’s time to get justice, go to trial, be in court, it’s a conflict of interest. Local prosecutors build their cases on a daily basis from police officers. Police officers hand over their cases all of the time to these prosecutors for them to bring charges up. And now for the prosecutor to have to turn around and bring these same charges against an officer, it’s a conflict of interest. If any civilian kills someone, they’re automatically going to jail. At that point, it’s guilty until proven innocent, but when it comes to police officers, too many times have we seen case after case, people are losing their lives and no one is being held responsible. They’re saying that these killings are justified and that does not resonate with the nation, which is why people are outraged.
MN: I read that you are pursuing a career in civil rights law. What pushed you to make that decision and did you have those aspirations prior to Sean’s death?
Well, when Sean was killed I was 22 years old. I was in the process of leaving one job and going into school. I was a young mom. We were a young family and at that point, I hadn’t thought about practicing law or anything that would be involving civil rights. That wasn’t on my mind. Life has a way of turning things around. I feel that every path that we take leads up to where you are supposed to be. Even though in my heart I wish November 25, 2006 never happened, now that we know that everything is in God’s plan, it’s a matter of turning your tragedy into triumph and helping others for a greater cause. Success isn’t always about the money you make. Sometimes success is about the impact that you have on others To me, that’s more important than any amount of money, really being there to assist other people and serve them…you know, wives and families who have been through the worst.
There was a point in my life where I didn’t want to go on. I did not want to go on. My mother, my family, my sisters, they were at my house every day to make sure that I didn’t do something to myself. They were there to make sure that I didn’t hurt myself, something that they would never be able to live with, and to make sure that my daughters were okay. Without family, without the community, I don’t believe that I would be able to stand as strongly as I am today.
We all have our days. I have my days and my daughters have their days, but I believe that God has a plan and he’s not done with me so I’m using my gift, a voice, to try and help others.
MN: What are some of the things that you tell yourself to make it through the rough days?
This too will pass. Not everything passes though. When you lose someone who is almost like a part of you, a part of you dies with that person. I try to stay active through my nonprofit organization. I try to do as many things that I can and really love my daughters, love my family. My daughters really are a mirror reflection of their father. I’m blessed to have them. My life now, I found a new life where I am really able to look at the bigger picture of things and not always see the glass as half empty. That has helped me to be able to go on and stay strong.
The community, the support from everyone out there, you don’t know what it does for the family members. It encourages you to the highest extent when you feel that you’ve lost your all, but then you look out your window and you see people yelling out your loved one’s name. It really causes so much encouragement. I just really encourage the community and the nation to continue to support these families who have lost their loved ones recently due to any type of violence. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who is behind the gun, there’s still a life lost. There’s still a family who has to mourn. Their lives will never be the same. Use your voice, whatever your gift is, use that gift to spread the word.
MN: What do you tell your daughters about their dad?
Well Jada is now in middle school and Jordyn is still in elementary school. Jada is able to understand a little bit more than Jordyn does. It’s a very difficult thing to understand at that age. I encourage her by advising her that her dad still lives inside of her. ‘As long as you are here, your father is here with you.’ But in order for her to not grow bitter, it takes a little bit of just strength to let her know that this is what happened and it’s wrong that these officers are not going to jail, but the way that we deal with our wrongs is that we stand up.
To hold on to anger and bitterness, it’s going to eat away at you. You can’t hold on to that. I really just encourage her to stay positive and stay strong because that’s who her father was. The best way to honor him would be to live in his shoes and honor him through the legacy of love that he left behind, the legacy of strength and the legacy of dedication. He was very dedicated to his family. It helps a little bit, but there’s nothing like a little girl and her dad.
MN: Tell me about your nonprofit, When It’s Real, It’s Forever?
It was founded in 2007. We’re a grassroots organization that consists of mostly family members, friends and some community members. We’re a justice and youth based organization. We hold different programs and events to really bring social awareness and highlight the diversity in different communities.
This past November 25, which marked the 8th memorial of Sean’s passing, we held the Know Your Rights Summit in Staten Island along with members of the National Action Network, Eric Garner’s mother, the Staten Island Police Department and community leaders. This is an event we host annually. We started in Queens, New York at York College and we do plan to travel with this summit to really inform people of their rights and bring awareness. In the summer, we also have a youth basketball camp and a dance camp.
We like to start with our children because in underserved communities, there are so many children with talents that are overlooked. All of our programs are free and we really like to encourage people to come out to our Sean Bell Family Day, which takes place every August. It’s a big back to school community day and we really bring family members together of all walks of life. We have a lot of fun that day.
The organization as a whole, we shine light on social awareness and bring the community together through justice and our youth. We also have a women’s group, which is small and we like to focus on different things. Not only social causes, but fun and adventurous things. I like to think that my organization has helped me to grow. It has helped me as a therapy and allowed me to meet some wonderful people. We can always use help. Our organization is very small and grassroots so we do depend a lot on donations or fundraisers. At the end of the day, we don’t want anyone to forget about our communities.
To learn more about When It’s Real, It’s Forever, head over to WIRIF.org.
Follow Jazmine on Twitter @JazmineDenise