Five years after Sean Bell was killed in a hail of police gunfire, a community center named in his honor opened Friday in the Jamaica, Queens neighborhood where he grew up.
The Sean Elijah Bell Community Center plans to offer tutoring and mentoring programs for kids, and GED and job training programs for adults starting next month. The center was funded by a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant and hopes to become an after-school haven for local youth, aiming to serve between 2,000 and 5,000 people a year.
"Someone was taken away from us and we want to try to save some other people," Bell's father William Bell told The New York Daily News. "There's so many things that could be done in our neighborhood."
Bell, who would have turned 28 last week, was leaving his bachelor party the night before his wedding on November 26, 2006, when a team of plainclothes and undercover NYPD officers said they incorrectly heard him and his friends refer to a gun in their possession. The officers then fired 50 bullets at Bell's car, killing him and injuring two of his friends. The incident caused national outcry, criticism, and protests by civil rights activists. Three of the five detectives who shot Bell and his friends faced trial but were acquitted in 2008. Last year, New York City agreed to pay Bell's family and friends a total of $7 million in a lawsuit settlement.
Bell's parents led a march from Sean Bell Way, a street renamed in his honor and the location of the police shooting, to the community center to commemorate its opening. "I wanted to do a center like this to keep [Sean's] name and his memory in the community he grew up in," Valerie Bell, his mother, said. "Life is too short not to be happy and do things for other people."