He was only 23 years old, and on the day of his wedding in 2006, Sean Bell was shot and killed by five undercover officers.
The shooting took place shortly after a bachelor party in Queens, N.Y. According to the New York City police commissioner at the time, Raymond Kelly, a fight broke out outside and someone shouted, “Yo, get my gun.” One officer on the scene alleged that Bell then said, “Let’s fuck him up.” An undercover officer followed Bell and his friend.
“As the undercover officer approached the front of the car, the car moved forward, striking the undercover [officer],” Kelly said. “It then ploughed into the front of the police minivan that had just turned south of Liverpool Street. The driver of the Altima put the car in reverse and drove backward onto the sidewalk, slamming into a roll-down gate of the building there, close to where the undercover officer was located. The driver put the car into forward and rammed the police minivan a second time.”
A total of 51 shots were fired into the car. Bell was struck in the neck and arm and was dead on arrival at the hospital. The three officers who went to trial (of five who were involved in the shooting) were found not guilty.
In the first installment of Complex News’ new series, Before the Hashtag, Bell’s story is being told, with commentary provided by those who knew him best.
“Sean Bell’s story is one that continues to resonate within the Black Lives Matters movement,” said Anslem Samuel Rocque, managing director of Complex News. “As the 10-year anniversary of Sean’s death approached, it was important to commemorate his life and not how it ended. This project is meant to celebrate the actual person and not the tragedy. Sean was a father to two beautiful girls, he was a husband-to-be, he was a son, he was a friend, and, at 23, there was so much more he had left to do, and this special seeks to honor that legacy.”
Bell’s 34th birthday was on Thursday, but his life was taken away, and his family’s lives were forever changed, on Nov. 25, 2006.
“Our lives changed forever, the day Sean was killed,” Nicole Paultre Bell, Sean Bell’s former fiancee, remarked. “After watching this documentary, my only hope is that Sean’s legacy changes the lives of others for the better. For families traveling down the long road of justice, they may find hope in knowing that their voice has great power. I want the world to understand who Sean was before the hashtag.”
Watch the full documentary above.