The Jamaica corner where Sean Bell was killed in a hail of 50 police bullets will be renamed next week in honor of the slain bridegroom.
A ceremony is set for May 18 when Liverpool Street between 94th Avenue and 101st Street will become “Sean Bell Way” in honor of the 23-year-old Richmond Hill native. The street renaming came a year after heavy debate among community leaders and elected officials over whether or not the violent incident should be memorialized.
Despite the long process, City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), who backed the measure, said it would be an important historical step for southeast Queens.
“I think it’s a commemoration of a tragedy that happened and we want to do it in a manner that is respectable and understanding,” he said.
Bell was celebrating his bachelor party with friends Nov. 25, 2006, at the Kalua Cabaret, which was being investigated by undercover police for suspected drug and prostitution operations.
Early that morning the bridegroom and his friends, Trent Benefield and Joseph Guzman, got into an argument with another patron outside the club and were observed by one of the undercover detectives, who claimed he heard that someone was going to get a gun.
When the detective and his partners approached the trio at Bell’s car at the corner, the Rockaway resident rammed his car into an unmarked police minivan, which prompted five of the undercover officers to fire 50 shots at Bell’s sedan. The bridegroom was killed instantly and Benefield and Guzman were seriously wounded and arrested. No weapon was ever found.
Three of five detectives who opened fire were indicted on manslaughter and reckless endangerment charges, but were acquitted in a bench trial two years ago.
Bell’s family immediately asked the city to rename the Jamaica street where he was shot, but the request had its critics, who claimed the father of two did not do anything to improve the community. The plan went before Community Board 12 in March 2009, but the board tabled the motion, much to the Bell family’s dismay, because paperwork from Councilman Thomas White (D-South Ozone Park) was not submitted in time.
When the board did approve the street renaming a month later, two members, one of whom included CB 12 Chairwoman Adjoa Gzifa, voted no. The Council officially voted on the measure in December with a 42-5 vote.
Comrie said the Bell family were organizing the event, but Gzifa said she would not be attending the ceremony.
“I was opposed to it then and I’m opposed to it now,” she said.
Comrie said he hoped critics of the street renaming would show respect and acknowledge the family’s wishes.
“All New Yorkers are entitled to their opinions,” he said.
Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@c
©2010 Community News Group
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