Revolution #77, January 28, 2007
“He was murdered, shot down, 50 shots”
William Bell on the NYPD killing of his son, Sean Bell
Revolution recently spoke with William Bell, the father of Sean Bell, who was killed by NYPD cops on the night of November 25 in a hail of 50 bullets, shortly after Sean and two friends left a club in Jamaica, Queens on the eve of his wedding. This interview took place at the site of the 50-day vigil that the Bell family and friends and supporters started on January 1, across the street from a police precinct in Jamaica, demanding justice for Sean Bell—50 days, one day for each of the shots fired that horrible night.
The Revolution Interview is a special feature to acquaint our readers with the views of significant figures in art, theater, music, literature, science, sports and politics. The views expressed by those we interview are, of course, their own, and they are not responsible for the views expressed elsewhere in Revolution.
Revolution: It’s been about two months now since the police killed Sean. What have you been thinking during this time about what happened that night, and why it happened?
William Bell: Sometimes I’m afraid to think. I’ll be honest with you, I’m really afraid to think about what’s really going on, because half the time I can’t sleep anyway. I walk the streets at night, 3 or 4 in the morning, trying to figure out what went wrong, maybe what did I do wrong. Could I have done something different? But the kid wasn’t bad, he wasn’t in trouble every day. Was there something I didn’t know about Sean that I should have known? For these two months so many things have been going through my head that it hurts. I’m still trying to figure out what’s going on. Nobody is willing to tell the truth about it. How can I make this whole thing not even be there? It’s just a heart-breaking thing, it just kills you, it takes you apart. And then people ask you how do you feel. I don’t know how I really feel. How should a person feel when a part of your soul is gone? I do have all kinds of questions, questions that I can’t answer but I hope someone else can. I have a lot of questions including about myself. Did I feed him right? Did I clean him right? What did I do wrong? Why couldn’t I help him? That’s one of the questions that eat you up. You see your baby crying and you can’t help him.
Revolution: I hear you, but I feel like you’re being way too hard on yourself. You know, this system has criminalized an entire generation of youth, and cops have been shooting them down, like they did Sean, for years and years all around this country. And it’s like what you and Valerie, Sean’s mom, have been quoted as saying in the mass media, that this was murder, pure and simple.
William Bell: Right. And the way it was done, and how the cops and others are trying to put it aside, like Sean and the others getting killed are nobodies. But they’re human beings. I don’t care if they’re white kids or purple kids. They’re still human beings. How can you destroy a life and say it was his fault? They’re trying to blame Sean for getting killed. How you going to blame the person who’s dead for getting killed?
Revolution: How are they trying to blame Sean?
William Bell: Because one of the cops at the club that night said he heard Sean’s friend say to go get his gun. That’s blaming Sean. Then the cops say that when Sean and his friends had gotten into the car after leaving the club they saw someone reaching for a gun. It could have been a seat belt they were reaching for. Did they take time to look? They could have been trying to unbutton their seat belts to get out of the car. But they weren’t given that chance, were they? Then they say he was drinking. At a bachelor party! You tell me one person living today who goes to a bachelor party and doesn’t have a drink. Just all kinds of excuses for how he killed himself. They didn’t do it, he did it. But he didn’t kill himself. He didn’t jump out of no building. He didn’t hang himself. He was murdered, shot down, 50 shots. Like I say, I don’t crucify everybody, including not all cops. I have a lot of policemen in my family, and Sean grew up with a lot of them, playing baseball together. Now why would he have a thing for them? He had no drugs on him, no guns. They dug up half a whole avenue trying to find a gun, which doesn’t exist. And then they go after some other people in the building where he used to go by and visit people, but the crime didn’t happen there. The crime happened at that corner near the club.
Everything they say is what he did, not what they did. What did he do that was so wrong? He was at a bachelor party, he was happy. Any young Black male would have loved to be in that situation that day. He’s getting married, he has two beautiful kids. Now my two babies are going to grow up without their father, who loved them dearly. How’s that problem going to be solved? How can you justify that? Are they going to play up something he did when he was 14 or 13? Does that justify killing him now? He did something when he was 13, like normal kids do? We all have our little problems here and there. Some people can get out of it because they’re the right people. But we’re not rich people, we don’t have any influence. But the whole thing is that he didn’t deserve to die like that.
Revolution: It’s like the police today are modern-day slave-catchers. They’re here in a community like Jamaica, Queens, to keep Black people…
William Bell: …in line.
Revolution: In line, right.
William Bell: Right, they’re the enforcers.
Revolution: So, you know, even if you have cops in your family and you know them and you sit down and break bread with them, still if they’re cops they’re expected to do certain things in certain situations, like they did with Sean.
William Bell: Right, and maybe that’s why a lot of them get out, because they don’t like this system.
Revolution: You know cops who have done that?
William Bell: Right, because they don’t like the system. Black cops, even white cops, white cops also. A lot of people have feelings, they’re humans. They see things that aren’t right, so, hey, are you going to continue to do the same things? No, I don’t think so, if you have any kind of feelings.
But if you don’t care, and just look around and say, now I’ve got power to do what I want, I can abuse anybody I want. Is that right? A kid walks down the street with their hoods. I wear a hood. So what are you going to do to me now? Are you going to go through my pockets and make me look like an idiot in the streets, put me down on the sidewalk and tell me to set there with my hands behind my back, without any cause whatsoever? So if a kid knows he right he’s going to say something, and that, most of the time, will get him in trouble. Because he knows he didn’t do nothing. I didn’t do nothing, he’ll say to the cops, so what’s your problem? Now the cops are going to get rough with him, are going to throw him around, humiliate him, make him look like an idiot. You see, I’ve got the power, not you. You don’t question what I want to do. I can do whatever I want with you.
You know, my son was a very respectful young man—unless, like anybody, if you’re going to say something stupid to him of course he’s going to respond, anybody would. But if he was just walking along minding his business, like he was that night of his bachelor party, why did he have to be followed? Why that night did he have to be circled by all those cops? Do they know why they surrounded him? Do they really know? That comes back to all these questions I have. Why? Do they have a real good reason to do what they did? I want them to tell me “he kicked me in my butt,” or he did this or that. Then you whup his butt, if you can, go at it man-to-man, but you don’t kill him. Just because you’re a cop and carry a gun, you think everything you do is right, ‘cause some of these kids speak back to you.
What happened to freedom of speech? That’s gone too? Now they put you in the shed and lock the doors. You talk when I let you out, if I let you out.
But they can’t keep us in that cage forever. Some time and at some place on this earth, things gotta change. Not only here but all around the world. It’s just getting out of hand, and people all around the world have to stick together. This separation has to stop. I don’t care about this color, this person, this attitude. No. After a while, this stuff going on is going to affect everybody. You think it can’t happen to you? Oh yes it can. Think about it, yes it can. And when it does, you’re going to want people like me to support you, and I’ll be there for you, because I don’t want to see it happen to another kid, no matter who they are. I lost mine, and he can’t come back. And my heart is still there, but they took part of that away. All I can do is help other kids, help anybody else that’s willing to listen and willing to want help.
So that’s the key. We have to get together and we have to stay together. Beyond that, what you and me talk about don’t mean nothing, you know what I’m saying. And somehow and some way we have to stop knocking our kids, like for wearing their pants way low, and give them a little praise and sit down and listen to them, that’s what we have to do more of. And I think that will help to make the change, regardless of the color of their skin. Because if parents sit down and say you shouldn’t be prejudiced because that person is a human being just like you. And it all comes down to the big question of how are we going to win? That’s the really big question, right? If somebody can tell us this, hey, I’ll go to work on it. If they can tell me how we’re going to win, I’d support them all the way. We need to stop this, not being disrespectful to no one, but we’ve got to get this stopped, because it’s hurting too many people over and over again, and why? You could be the most god-loving person on this earth and that’s not going to stop them from doing what they’re planning to do to you. . .
And I also wanted to take the opportunity to thank all the New Yorkers who have helped. Al Sharpton, because he helped to get it all started around Sean. The bishops, the reverends, our lawyers, and people like you from the newspaper, who take the time to come out and talk. And it’s not just New Yorkers because, hey, I’ve gotten calls from people around the world, which is good. I think maybe for a lot of others they’re afraid that if they try to show support now…it’s like what happened back in the ‘60s when white people showed support for Black people—they would kill them. Mississippi Burning—a perfect example. They killed those white kids and burned their car. Put them under the rug, like they were nothing, no one.
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