With a crowd of protestors outside the courthouse chanting, “Justice for Sean Bell,” the trial kicked off Monday for three New York police detectives involved in his shooting. Bell, a 23-year-old Black man, died in a hail of 50 police bullets on November 25, 2006, the morning of his wedding day.

Prosecutors gave their arguments first, claiming that the indicted undercover detectives-Gescard Isnora, Michael Oliver and Marc Cooper-acted recklessly when they fired at the unarmed man. “It will be clear that what happened cannot be explained away as a mere accident or mistake,” said Assistant District Attorney Charles Testagrossa. “It can only be characterized as criminal.”

The policemen have said that, at the time, they believed some of the men with Bell were armed. Defense lawyers argued on Monday that the undercover officers shot after Detective Isnora approached Bell’s car, and then Bell drove forward and struck him with the vehicle. In a surprising turn, one defense attorney argued that Bell had racially stereotyped Isnora, who is Black.

“They see a Negro with a gun,” said attorney Anthony L. Ricco, who maintained that Isnora had identified himself as a police officer. “Just another Negro on the street with a gun.” Bell’s friends who survived the shooting, Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield, have said that none of the officers identified themselves as police. Nicole Paultre Bell, Bell’s fiancée and the mother of his two young daughters, also testified on Monday, weeping as she recalled the morning at the hospital when she learned that Bell was dead.

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If convicted, Isnora and Oliver face up to 25 years in prison for manslaughter, assault and reckless endangerment. Cooper faces up to one year on a lesser charge of endangerment.

If you would like to send a letter of condolence, a gift or monetary donation, please send to:

Nicole Paultre Bell

PO Box 900537

Far Rockaway, NY 11690

Credit: Courtesy of Nicole Paultre Bell