NEW YORK — Sean Bell’s parents struggled on Thanksgiving, the 15th anniversary of their son’s death at the hands of police.
They haven’t felt better as time has gone on. This year was even more difficult for William and Valerie Bell because the anniversary fell on a holiday.
Sean Bell, a 23-year-old studying to become an electrician, was set to get married. He died in a hail of 50 bullets fired by undercover NYPD officers as he left his bachelor party at a Queens night club.
Now, 15 years later, Sean Bell’s parents want to keep his memory alive.
“It don’t get no better,” William Bell said. “Every year it gets harder and harder, especially the holidays, especially Thanksgiving.”
They hoped their son’s death would be a catalyst for police reform, but in the years since, there’s been one high profile case after another; Ramarley Graham, Eric Garner and George Floyd have been just three of many people of color who’ve lost their lives in police encounters.
“See, that’s the hardest part of it all,” William Bell said. “When we going to get justice? When are they going to label us as human beings, not like animals, shooting us down like animals and putting us aside like we no one. We all human beings, so treat us that way.”
The officers in Sean Bell’s case were found to have violated NYPD protocols, but they received little to no punishment.
While working for change, his parents are starting a scholarship at his alma mater John Adams High. They’re raising money for the scholarship in part through a book about their son’s life.
“My justice was letting people know that Sean was somebody and he is always going to be something in our heart,” Valerie Bell said.
William and Valerie Bell hope to sit down with Mayor-elect Eric Adams to discuss policing policy, particularly in predominantly minority neighborhoods in this city.
They say their son’s legacy lives on in his daughters, and they vow to continue to honor his memory on this day and every other day.
Valeria Bell made his Thanksgiving favorites Thursday, as she does every year for the holiday.
“I always make Sean a sweet potato pie and mac and cheese and potato salad. He’s the only one who loved my potato salad,” Valerie Bell said. “And Jayda loves my potato salad and collard greens and when I make that, it just brings joy to my heart knowing I can continue to think that and it’s one of the favorite foods that Sean loved.”