The family of Sean Bell, the groom fatally shot by police on his wedding day, has begun a round-the-clock 50-day vigil in front of a police precinct to press for indictments in the case and the appointment of a special prosecutor.
Bell's mother, Valerie, began the vigil at 4:56 a.m. Monday — approximately the same time that her son was killed in a barrage of police gunfire outside a club with strippers — outside a police precinct in the Jamaica section of the borough of Queens where the shooting occurred. Bell's fiancee, Nicole Paultre-Bell, joined the vigil Monday night, the family's attorney said.
Sean Bell, 23, was killed by police on Nov. 25, 2006, after celebrating what would have been his last night of bachelorhood at the club. Two friends were also wounded in the hail of 50 bullets fired by a group of plainclothes detectives who police later said were staking out the strip club because of alleged criminal activity there. Bell and his friends were unarmed.
The lethal shooting set off an uproar of criticism aimed at the New York Police Department for its use of deadly force, undercover tactics and treatment of minorities.
"We're trying to get the point across to the world that we are standing for justice," Bell's mother said, speaking by cell phone Tuesday morning as she stood at the vigil site. "The thing that happened to my son shouldn't happen to anyone again."
She said she would be out there every day at 4:56 a.m., and stay for a couple hours. Other family members and friends will take turns maintaining the vigil when she is not there, she said.
A 12-foot banner hung on a fence at the vigil site, depicting the slain groom and the message "NEVER AGAIN," his portrait surrounded by 50 illustrated "bullet holes."
The Bell family planned a news conference for Tuesday morning to call attention to the lack of indictments in the case by Queens District Attorney Richard Brown and the need for New York's new Gov. Eliot Spitzer to appoint a special prosecutor.
The group of detectives involved in the shooting were of mixed ethnicity — black, white and Latino. Bell was black, as are his two friends who are now recovering from their wounds. While the city has denied any element of race was involved in the shooting incident, family members and civil rights activists have claimed otherwise.
The vigil that began Monday also is meant to highlight the "devaluation of the lives of young black men" in the city, a statement from the family's attorney stated.
"We're out here for peace and justice," said Bell's mother.