Tomorrow, November 25, marks the 10 year anniversary of the passing of Sean Bell. Many of us know the story of the young man who was celebrating his last night of singleness before he was to marry his childhood sweetheart Nicole. Bell and his friends were leaving a strip club in Queens when three plainclothes detectives fired into the vehicle 50 times, killing Bell and injuring his friends Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield. The officers in the shooting were later acquitted.
A week before the anniversary, Judge Arthur Cooperman, who was 72-years-old at the time of the case, told the New York Daily News, he stands behind the ruling he made to acquit the detectives.
“The decision was the decision. It was in writing. It said all that had to be said.”
The Bell family was later awarded a $7 million settlement from the city.
At 22-years-old, in 2006, Bell’s fiancee Nicole was left to not only pick up the pieces but raise the couples two daughters, Jada and Jordyn. Ten years later, Vibe reports that Nicole is not only strong, she’s happy.
“Her aura doesn’t reek of loss, trauma or hurt. Nicole smiles…often. She gives off homegirl vibes within moments of meeting her and that of a woman who knows herself. She doesn’t shy away from difficult questions and while her eyes became misty while speaking about him, she pushes through for herself, for Sean and for the awareness she deems important.”
How are you feeling?
Nicole Paultre-Bell: Holidays are always my favorite time of year because it brings family together. I’m big on family. It’s just the way that I was brought up. November though, you know…
…is a rough month.
Yeah. It has been. Over the years, I’ve been able to learn how to move forward, learn how to just be thankful and grateful for life, for my daughters. But November is a rough time.
What kind of person was Sean? What were some of his goals?
Sean was an athlete. He was great in almost every sport, but baseball was his thing. He was a very shy guy but you would never know. I mean, from what the public has learned of Sean, it’s the tragic way his life ended. There was so much more to him. He loved baseball. He loved to be with the family. On Sundays, that was our day, family day. Every Sunday. He was a momma’s boy, and extremely handsome, but ‘don’t call me a pretty boy.’ That type of guy.
I interviewed Sybrina Fulton prior to what would have been Trayvon‘s 21st birthday and she said when she’s having a rough day she keeps quiet and keeps to herself. She doesn’t want to show that. Losing a son is different from losing a fiancé, and Trayvon was killed in 2012 and Sean was killed in 2006. Four years is a lot different from 10 years. How do you cope and get through the day when you’re thinking about Sean and it’s just too emotional?
There’s a saying [that] “time heals all wounds” and for me, these past years, the more recent years have been a lot easier than as you said in the beginning. I mean, four years after Sean passed, we were still fighting for justice. We were still going through the legal matters. You don’t get a chance to think to yourself. So for me, what really helped me overcome was remaining active, being at those rallies, being at those marches, being in the media, being able to share who Sean was to me, and showing the public that through me, this is who he was. So four years into it, it was a very dark time for me. I’ve met Sybrina, and she’s a great woman. And you know, we’ve been able to share a similar bond. No, I don’t know what it’s like to lose a child, and she doesn’t know what it’s like to lose a fiancé and have children be left behind with no father. But it’s a similar tragedy – gone too soon. Taking that time out for yourself to really heal and figure things out, learn who you are because a part of me died when Sean died.
There’s a lot of talk in the black community around self care, especially because with camera phones, we can now see the deaths of Alton Sterling, Eric Garner, Philando Castile. Had there been footage of Sean’s murder, do you think it would have changed the outcome?
No. I think that the judge who made his decision had his mind made up in the beginning. We live in a country where police officers are not held accountable when they kill innocent people. When I was growing up as a little girl, we’re made to say this pledge everyday in school that there’s justice for all, and it’s not. It’s not justice for all. There is a certain group of folks who can shoot and not be held accountable, and it’s not right and for myself and for Mrs. Bell, Sean’s mother and Sean’s father, and his siblings and my family, everyone who loved him, it just didn’t make sense. Sean had the right to leave that bachelor party and make it home and get married the next day. Trayvon [Martin] had the right to walk around his father’s complex without being harassed by some psycho. Eric Garner had the right to stand there and proclaim, “Listen, not today. No more, you can’t harass me anymore.” without being killed.
Had there been footage, do you think you would have watched it and do you think it would have prolonged your healing?
I wouldn’t have watched it if there were footage. I’ve had a chance to talk with Sean’s friends who were there. Joe Guzman, who was shot 16 times in the car with Sean, Trent Bentfield, who was shot four times as he tried to run out the back door and run for his life. They gave me their description of what happened and that was too much. That night, I had a nervous breakdown in my house, and it took almost everything that my family could do to try and bring me back to some sort of calm and normalcy. Again, I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.
Have you forgiven the officers involved in the shooting?
No. I’m going to be honest with you. I’m not going to sit here and sugar coat anything. I haven’t and I feel that…
…do you feel like you should?
I feel like if it’s necessary, it will happen and right now, we still see people losing their lives. We see no one accepting the fact that they’ve done wrong and the justice system will not convict these officers each and every time there’s an officer who walks away from killing an innocent person or doing some kind of wrong doings to an innocent person. It affects each and every one of us who have been through this.
You’re married now and from what I’ve read, your husband Jay is a real funny guy. The night before your wedding to Jay, were you nervous?
Purposefully, I didn’t want to plan anything. We actually went to the Justice of The Peace and we didn’t have a big wedding, we just got married. I didn’t want the big wedding. I wanted to just be with the person that I loved. It didn’t matter about the glitz and the glamour.
Were you—feel free not to answer this question if you don’t want to—were you afraid that what happened to Sean might happen to Jay?
When I first met Jay, as I felt myself falling in love, I remember having a conversation with my oldest sister, and I said, ‘If something happens to him…’ I just felt like something might happen. I did feel like, ‘Oh my gosh, he may lose his life. Oh my God, if something happens, I’m not going to the funeral. I’m not doing it this time.’ I actually said that to myself and I had to realize this is not something that happens all of the time. It’s traumatic and very hard to overcome and I can’t say that I have overcome the loss. No, on days that are significant—my daughter’s graduation, my daughter’s prom, birthdays, anniversaries, the holidays—certain significant days are bittersweet. It brings back those feelings. I’ve met other women and widows, people who have lost husbands 20 years ago, and I realized that I wasn’t alone. It wasn’t wrong to feel this way because I had survivor’s remorse. I felt guilty at 22 years old, being able to pick up and move on. Of course, you deserve to live your life, but I was guilty. I didn’t know if it was the right thing. It took for me to get counseling, to speak to mentors, to reach out to pastors, to speak to my elders, the seniors of my family, women who have lived their lives and lived their lives through God. I then realized that it’s okay to be happy. It’s not a bad thing. We weren’t put on this Earth to mourn forever. Mourning is a phase that we all go through and what was important to me is that I don’t just pick up and move on and forget. Always embrace your past, but you have to live for now.
You can read the rest of Nicole Paultre-Bell’s interview, where she talks about passing down her rings and dress to her daughters, family drama, the foundation she started in Sean’s honor and more over at Vibe.