Join Sean Bell Vigil

Even if you can only participate for an hour or two each week, please come out. The weather has been unseasonably warm, but we are in the dead of winter, and it is going to be mad cold out there. Please let’s not let Mrs. Bell, Sean Bell’s mother, who called for this vigil, and the Bell family, do this alone.


I was just out at the 50-day Sean Bell Vigil in Jamaica, Queens, New York, the other night, across from the 103rd precinct.

In spite of the rain, the Bell family, friends, and folks looking for basic justice were there. It was incredibly moving, and it made me think of Rosa Parks in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955, as well as those four college students in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1960.

In both instances, it was just a few dedicated individuals and their very simple acts of civil disobedience, which brought attention to very serious human and civil rights violations. They made sacrifices to their own comfort and their own safety, and changes did happen, as manifested in the Civil Rights Movement.

Well, here we are again, as the struggle for real justice and real freedom in America never really ended, in spite of what some of us have been led to believe. It has been over a month since Sean Bell was murdered, and his two friends, Trent Benefield and Joe Guzman, were badly wounded in a barrage of 50 shots from undercover New York Police Department officers.

There is still no indictment, and there is a growing concern, in communities around New York City and throughout America, that these police officers will get off completely, if a trial even occurs.

Let me make it very clear that the Bell family, from my conversations with them last night, understand that there are good police officers. Let me also make it clear that they do not want the rhetoric of violence or revenge or disrespect for the NYPD in general around their vigil. Nor are they interested in having individuals or organizations trying to use the tragedy of Sean Bell’s death for outside agendas. They simply want justice for what happened to Sean Bell. Moreover, they certainly could use the help and support from concerned human beings such as yourself.

Here is how you can support the 50day Sean Bell Vigil in Queens: It is a 50-day, 24-hour, 7-day a week vigil, begun on Monday, January 1st, and concluding on Monday, February 19th. I think it obvious that the 50 days symbolize the 50 bullets fired at Sean Bell and his friends.

The vigil is taking place directly across from the 103rd precinct, on 168th Street, right off Jamaica Avenue and 91st Avenue, in the Jamaica, Queens section of New York City. You can use Mapquest or Google to get directions either via public transportation or by driving.

There is a need for people of all backgrounds and all persuasions to participate in the vigil in shifts, day and night, weekday and weekend. Even if you can only participate for an hour or two each week, please come out. The weather has been unseasonably warm, but we are in the dead of winter, and it is going to be mad cold out there. Please let’s not let Mrs. Bell, Sean Bell’s mother, who called for this vigil, and the Bell family, do this alone. PLEASE CALL 1-866-695-2992 if you would like to participate in the vigil, or offer support.

I am hoping that churches, church leaders, and other religious and spiritual leaders will encourage their believers to support this important effort. This vigil is not about showboating; it is not about media attention– it is about justice. The Bell family, from what I could see and hear, are regular working class New Yorkers who have a deep faith in God, who believe in the power of the church.

Indeed, as we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. King at this time of year, I think it would be remarkably hypocritical for any church, any mosque or masjid, any synagogue, or any religious or spiritual leader to, on the one hand, talk about Dr. King, honor Dr. King, yet say and do nothing in support of this very peaceful and very simple vigil for Sean Bell.

Dr. King was a man of action, not just talk, and those of us in leadership positions, who have sizable followings, need to be as well. For police brutality toward Black and Latino communities is one of the great issues of our time. In fact, if we were to read Dr. King’s I Have A Dream speech in its entirety, we would note that Dr. King uses the term police brutality twice in that famous address. The more things have changed, the more they have stayed the same.

I am hoping that elected officials will themselves participate in this vigil, elected officials from Queens, and elected officials from all across the metro New York City area. The people you represent need to see that you care. They need to see you on the frontlines with the Bell family.

I am hoping that Civil Rights organizations, service organizations, labor unions, fraternities and sororities, activists, and organizers will support this effort, mobilize their bases to come out, and spread the word, near and far, to their networks.

I am hoping that college students will participate, and encourage their peers to support this important effort. Any time real change has happened in America, or on this planet, young people have been at the forefront. Well, you all are needed now more than ever.

I am hoping that HIPHOP heads everywhere, the famous and the unknown, will support this important effort. Time and again the hiphop generation, the hiphop community, has been knocked and mocked for not caring about social issues. Well, here is our opportunity to make a difference in an historic way.

I am hoping that professionals and professional organizations will support this important effort. Your skill sets and access to resources are sorely needed to sustain this vigil.

I am hoping that men, especially Black and Latino men, will support this effort. I duly noted the number of women present when I was there. Women, as usual, are holding it down, but we need men to step to the plate as well. As I said to young Black and Latino men driving by last night, Sean Bell is YOU. Sean Bell could have been YOU. Men are especially needed for the late night to morning shifts, around 11pm-6am. If you cannot physically participate in the 50-day vigil, here are items needed to support the Sean Bell Vigil through to its completion.

The donation of at least two Portable Toilets for the duration of the vigil–Food, lots of food, drinks (bottled water, juices), paper towels, toilet paper, comfortable folding chairs for the elders who are participating, portable, battery operated heaters, portable, battery operated outdoor lights, batteries for heaters and outdoor lights, tents or tarp covering in case of bad weather, and blankets.

Thousands of copies of the one page flier promoting the vigil. Individuals willing to pass out the vigil flier around New York City. And we need New Yorkers to write letters to your City Council person, your State Assembly person, your State Senator, your District Leader, your Community Board President, and your Congressperson, inquiring what each of them is doing to fight for procedure and behavior reform within the New York Police Department, via the legislative process. Please share this call with others.

Powell is a New York based writer and community activist who lives in Brooklyn.

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