Paultre Bell talked to Essence.com for her first print interview since the disappointing verdict. Here she recalls the blow of having her hopes dashed, the taunting phone calls she has received
(May 2, 2008-New York) It was a trying week for Nicole Paultre Bell. The raw heartache of losing her fiancé, Sean Bell, in a storm of 50 police bullets on November 25, 2006-the day they were to have been married-surfaced all over again when a judge declared the three New York police detectives indicted in the shooting not guilty on all counts. Immediately after the verdict, Paultre Bell, 23, fled the courtroom in tears, her face crumpled in an expression of hurt and dismay. But since that Friday, April 25, the mother of two has shown that her fight for justice did not end in that Queens courtroom. She has met with members of Congress and national civil rights organizations to collectively lobby for federal charges against the officers, who were working undercover when they shot at the unarmed Bell. The U.S. Department of Justice has said it will investigate the case with the FBI.
Essence.com: What was going through your mind after the verdict?
Nicole Paultre Bell: When I heard the judge's decision, I was devastated. I couldn't believe that after everything we've been through and what happened to Sean, that there was no result. Basically the decision says that it was okay. I was just devastated.
Essence.com: Had you ever considered that it might go this way?
Paultre Bell: With all the different charges, and with everything that happened that night, in my eyes, there had to be something. I wasn't expecting them to be found guilty of the highest charge. I knew it was not going to be exactly what I wanted. But I did not expect it to be nothing.
Essence.com: After the verdict was issued, your family went into an office at the courthouse. What was going on in there?
Paultre Bell: Everyone was trying to gather their thoughts. We just shared words of comfort and encouragement. We told each other that it wasn't over and that we had to continue our fight for justice. Once we left court, we met up at the cemetery, where we paid our respects to Sean. We prayed. We cried. My older daughter Jada; she's 5. She has a lot of questions. When I got home I didn't have to tell her that something was wrong. I told her that they said no to justice, but I also told her that it wasn't over.
Essence.com: One of the detectives, Marc Cooper, apologized to your family in a press conference after the verdict. Your response?
Paultre Bell: I did see their press conference. I can say that, as we were sitting in court every day, when I would look over at them, he would be the only one who looked remorseful. So I accepted his apology. I'm sad to say that's the only apology we got from anyone on their side.
Essence.com: People all over the country are fired up and ready to take action against this ruling. What has it been like for you to see the emotional response from so many people?
Paultre Bell: It's surreal. I never would have thought that my family and I would be at the center of something like this. It's amazing to me when people come up to me and tell me how I have their support. It all gives me strength to keep going. Some celebrities have reached out too. Hillary Clinton called again. She let us know that she sent her condolences to me and Sean's parents, and she said that she will fully support the Justice Department investigation. I also got a phone call from P. Diddy. He also extended his condolences and told me he was proud of how strong I stood and hung in there.
Essence.com: I understand you've received negative attention, like prank phone calls to your home.
Paultre Bell: We had several phone calls of someone laughing at us the day of the verdict. It was just awful, especially since I had just gotten right back from the cemetery. There were also e-mails sent to my Web site [nicolepaultrebell.com]. In one e-mail, the person said, "Sean got what he deserved. He was a perp." One of the phone calls of someone laughing, we traced it to the Sergeants Benevolent Association [of New York City]. NYPD Internal Affairs let us know they're investigating it. There was a statement put out by the head of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, but they haven't responded to me directly.
[SBA President Ed Mullins told Essence.com, "Personally I don't believe it to be true. If it is true, we'll deal with it appropriately if we can identify who actually made the call. I do know that there's a website called spoofcom.net, where you can spin calls [change your caller ID to any number]." He said the organization will fully cooperate with any investigation. The NYPD Information Office confirmed that Internal Affairs is investigating the incident.]
Essence.com: Are you filing a civil suit next?
Paultre Bell: No, that will be the last thing that is done. Right now we're hoping that when the Justice Department looks into this, I pray that they will show us justice. I'm not giving up. I'm prepared to be a part of any protests as well. This is round two. This happened to my family. So I'm going to stand strong and pray that justice is done.
Essence.com: You seem newly energized during this "round two." Are you angry?
Paultre Bell: I was let down. It didn't feel like that was the right decision. But I'm channeling my energy on acting to correct it. I have to stay positive. With all the negativity going on, I have to keep moving forward and keep looking toward something positive.
Photo Credit: Peter Chin
Nicole Paultre grasps a photograph of her, Sean and their children. She was photographed for exclusively for ESSENCE.