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Queens Chronicle

Sean Bell Center closes in Jamaica

Community oasis named for man killed by police gunfire in 2006

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Posted: Wednesday, November 27, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 11:11 am, Thu Dec 5, 2013.

The Sean Elijah Bell Community Center, established in memory of the Jamaica man killed in an infamous police shooting in 2006, closed on Friday after struggling to get funding for its daycare, afterschool and other programs.

Monday, Nov. 25, was the seventh anniversary of Bell’s death.

The center opened at 107-52 Sutphin Blvd. in 2011. Numerous stories in the media this past spring and summer detailed the financial difficulties that had been threatening to shut it down as early as July.

“We can’t get the support to keep it going,” Bell’s father, William, said in a telephone interview on Monday. “We closed Friday and we’re moving stuff out today. It’s funny — you try your best to help people and they don’t give you the support to keep going, so what are you supposed to do?”

Perhaps the most prominent and utilized programs centered around daycare and afterschool programs for the children of working parents.

Volunteers offered homework and reading help and other activities — all in a setting parents could count on as safe, nurturing and productive in an often rough neighborhood.

For older residents the center offered things like assistance in applying and studying for high school GED diplomas.

For those either seeking work or a better job, services included help with resume preparation, job interview skills and other programs.

“The ones I feel most sorry for are the kids in the neighborhood,” Bell said. “You want to keep the kids off the streets. We tried to keep it going. Maybe we’ll be able to open up a new center someday. We couldn’t get the help we needed.”

William and Valerie Bell’s son was killed hours before his wedding. Sean Bell and two friends were in a car following a confrontation outside of a strip club where Bell’s bachelor party had taken place.

Officer Gescard Isnora would testify that he heard someone in Bell’s party say something about getting a gun.

After the driver allegedly attempted to run over an officer, police fired 50 shots at the vehicle, killing Bell and seriously wounding Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield.

No gun was found in the car. Five officers were acquitted of all criminal charges stemming from Bell’s death.

One eventually was fired and three resigned.

The shooting sparked citywide protests, and did lead to changes in police procedures surrounding officer-involved shootings.

William Bell was trying to take the somber anniversary in stride.

“I don’t know how I’ve been able to deal with it,” he said. “The center was something that kept me going.”

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