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Let the Healing Begin

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The family and friends of Sean Bell have succeeded in turning a terrible tragedy into an opportunity to build something of lasting value in southeast Queens. On a Sunday morning, they marched from the place where Bell died in a hail of bullets to the site of a community center that was built to honor his memory.

It would have been easy for this same group to be consumed in anger and bitterness. Bell was shot and killed by police who fired 50 bullets at Bell and his unarmed friends. Plainclothes police were investigating the sale of drugs at the Kalua Cabaret where the friends had taken Bell for a bachelor party. Bell was to be married later that day.

The shooting was a mistake that never should have happened. The pain turned to outrage when a judge acquitted the police officers of any crime related to the shooting. The shooting and subsequent trial threatened to seriously divide the local police from the people they had sworn to serve. That would have been a double tragedy for a community that has lost so many young lives to gangs, drugs and gun violence.

Instead his fiancée, Nicole Paultre-Bell, her family and Bell’s family have demonstrated courage and strength of character. They worked with the community to create the Sean Elijah Bell Community Center blocks from where the shooting occurred. Because of her, in particular, the healing has begun.

Bell’s father said his family “always wanted to help the community, regardless of what happened to my son, but that gave us more drive to do it. He was a good man, determined and very direct. He was a good young man, for the most part.”

Shawn Williams, a crime victims’ advocate, said the Bell family is “trying to bridge the community with love.” Joseph Guzman, also injured in the same shooting, called the community center “a beautiful thing.”

Experts can argue about whether the shooting was an understandable mistake or an act of recklessness. It was probably both. But no one can deny that Nicole has demonstrated remarkable grace since that fateful morning. We hope Nicole, her children and the Bell family will take comfort and pride in the opening of the community center.

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