Sean Bell Hearing – February 6, 2021, 2 pm Eastern
Transcript: Hearing on the Case of Sean Bell
- Rapporteur Prof. Horace Campbell
- Commissioner Prof. Mireille Fanon-Mendes-France
- Commissioner Sir Clare Roberts
- Mr Lennox Hinds, Coordinator of the International Commission of Inquiry
- Mrs. Nicole Paultre Bell, the wife of Sean Bell
- Ms. Laura Harper, mother-in-law of Sean Bell
- Mr. Sanford Rubenstein, attorney for the Bell family
Horace Campbell 00:00
Good afternoon, everyone. Today is the sixth of February. And this is the last day of the hearings of the International Commission of Inquiry. And the police guaranteed that these hearings will have to continue in different forms. Every day we hear new outrageous police violence. Good afternoon. Welcome to the hearings of the International Commission of Inquiry on systemic racist police violence against people of African descent in the United States. These hearings are a process by which witnesses can present accounts of the unjustified killings and maimings of Black individuals by police officers in the United States before an international panel of human rights experts. We know begin the hearing the case of Sean Bell. My name is Horace Campbell. I’m the rapporteur for this hearing. Presiding over the hearing today is Commissioner Clare Roberts of Antigua and Mireille Fanon-Mendes-France of France. The witnesses for this hearing are attorney Sanford Rubenstein, Nicole Paultre Bell, wife of Sean Bell. And Miss Laura Harper, mother in law of Sean Bell. In the 50 minutes for this hearing, witnesses will testify followed by a period of questions from commissioners. I will call time at the 30 minute mark and at the 45 minute mark. Please excuse my interruptions, commissioners Roberts and Mireille Fanon-Mendes-France. I now present you the first witness, Attorney Sanford Rubenstein please confirm your name.
Sanford Rubenstein 02:11
Sanford, Sanford Rubenstein.
Horace Campbell 02:18
Do you promise that your testament to the commission of inquiry will be true to the best of the knowledge and belief?
Sanford Rubenstein 02:25
Horace Campbell 02:26
You may begin.
Sanford Rubenstein 02:28
My name is Sanford Rubenstein. I am a civil rights lawyer in New York City, who has represented countless victims injured and over 20 families who have lost loved ones as the result of excessive abuse or by police brutality in the New York City and New York metropolitan area. Almost 15 years ago, on November 25 2006, the borough of Queens in New York City was robbed of a young innocent Black man, Sean Bell, who at the time was engaged and looking forward to be married to the mother of his two children, his high school sweetheart, Nicole.
I’d like now to ask for the production of two photographs, numbered one and two, which shows them with their children. Thank you. Sean Bell was out enjoying a celebration with his friends and family the night before he was to be married at his bachelor party at a club in Jamaica, Queens. His night took a fatal turn. When New York police department undercover detectives recklessly fired a total of 50 shots at the car he was in after he left a bachelor party with two friends, Joe Guzman and Trent Benefield. I’d like now to introduce exhibit three, which is a picture of the vehicle that was shot up by 50 shots. You can see where the each bullet entered the car other hit the car, other bullets entered the car as well.
One of the bullets was the deadly bullet that took his life. Police officers, police bullets also struck his passengers. Joe Guzman, 17 times, he lived and passenger Trent Benefield, three times. They were also in the car with Sean Bell when detectives riddled the car with 50 shots. The rest of the bullets sprayed nearby cars and buildings and put other innocent victims in danger. As local residents leaped out of their beds huddled on the floor. One of the stray bullets in fact shattered a window at a train station in the neighborhood, injuring two Transit Police officers with flying glass. There’s a video exhibit four I’d like to be introduced now.
Video audio 05:22
Here on Democracy Now, democracynow.org the war and peace report, I’m Amy Goodman with Juan Gonzalez. We begin today’s show with a democracy now broadcast exclusive. We air for the first time surveillance footage connected to the shooting of Sean Bell. Bell was the unarmed African American man killed by undercover police in a hail of 50 bullets in Queens, New York two weeks ago. He died hours before he was supposed to be married, and two of his friends were seriously wounded. This footage is from two surveillance cameras at the Port Authority’s Jamaica Avenue air train station, which is a half a block away from the shooting site. The video reveals that one of the bullets fired by the five cops narrowly missed striking a civilian and two Port Authority patrolmen who were standing on the station’s elevated platform. One video shows a bullet shattering a window in the station and then nearly hitting the man. The second video shows two police officers scrambling for cover inside the station after the shot was fired. The content of the video was first revealed in the New York Daily News by Democracy Now co host Juan Gonzalez, but it has never been aired before.
Sanford Rubenstein 06:45
Thank you. According to witnesses, the undercover detectives never identified themselves to Bell or those who were within the car as they approached the car with their weapons drawn, nor did they warn Bell before opening fire. As a result, New York City experienced the loss that shook the entire city and cause citizens to question this use of excessive force, especially when all three victims were unarmed. And Sean Bell’s death hurt the community. Nicole experienced the greatest pain of all, the death of a man, the father of two girls, who was she she was supposed to share the rest of her life with. She loved him dearly. And even after his death, wanted to marry him, to carry his name. Well, that was not possible. I successfully petitioned the Supreme Court in Brooklyn to allow her to carry his name for the rest of her life. 1000s of people took to the streets to protest against the amount of force used the weekend following Bell’s death. They cried out for justice on behalf of bell. In fact, Christmas came and Nicole joined tens of thousands. Shopping for justice, as the march was called chanting, no justice, no peace, calling for accountability. On behalf of the New York City Police Department. I call for the production now of exhibit five, which shows that march. The City of New York settled with the children of Sean Bell and the two passengers in his car for a total of $7.15 million in damages. The detectives themselves never faced federal criminal charges. While three of the five detectives involved in the shooting went to trial in New York’s state Supreme Court on charges filed by a Queens grand jury, first and second degree manslaughter, first and second degree assault and second degree reckless endangerment.
The defendants and their lawyers depicted in exhibit six I quote for the production of exhibit six. And now I call for the production of exhibit seven. A photograph showing the press conference which held was held daily each day of the trial. The defendants in that case, the detectives in that case who were on trial, were found not guilty by a state Supreme Court judge in a judge only trial. In New York State defendants have the right to waive a jury and have a judge determine their guilt or innocence. Six years after the shooting, four detectives were expelled from the New York City Police Department. I would like now to introduce Nicole Paultre Bell, whose father by the way is of Haitian descent, who since the killing has become an outspoken activist in the struggle against police brutality, she is a role model for other victims fighting for change. So what happened to Sean Bell, Trent Benefield and Joe Guzman will never happen again. Nicole, please tell us of your experience.
Horace Campbell 11:02
Please let me swear in Nicole, Nicole Paultre Bell, please confirm your name.
Nicole Paultre Bell 11:09
Nicole Paultre Bell.
Horace Campbell 11:12
Do you promise that your testimony to the commission of inquiry will be true to the best of your knowledge and belief?
Nicole Paultre Bell 11:18
Yes, I do.
Horace Campbell 11:20
You may begin.
Nicole Paultre Bell 11:22
Good afternoon. I first just like to thank you all for continuing this commission on systemic racist police violence in America. Thank you attorney Rubenstein for the invitation. I’m extremely grateful to be before you and to participate in this hearing. We all have a common goal of justice and Sean dreamed of having a happy family getting married, and one day truly living out the American dream of a successful life. However, that dream was cut short for Sean on November 25 2006. After celebrating his bachelor party. Things took a turn for the worse when a team of NYPD plainclothes undercover detectives in our community, South Jamaica, Queens, New York, killed Sean as he left his bachelor party with his friends on the early morning of what was to be our wedding day. The five detectives Gescard Isnora, Michael Oliver, Marc Cooper, Michael Carey and Paul Headley, who fired a total of 50 shots killed Sean and severely wounded two of his friends Trent Benefield, and Joe Guzman. Detective Gescard Isnora was undercover on the inside of the club that night. Later on, following Sean and his friends back to their car, Isnora initiated the 50 shot barrage by his team. Detective Michael Oliver fired 31 of the 50 shots, he emptied an entire magazine then reloaded and emptied another entire magazine into my silver 1999 Nissan Altima. Sean and his friends had no weapons. Sean and I were planning on continuing our lives with a wedding later on that day, a life that involves solidifying a young family. I held the marriage permit in my possession when he was killed. Yet it happened hours away from one of the most important moments of our lives.
Sean was 23 years old, he left behind two young daughters. At the time of his death. Jada was three years old, and Jordyn was five months old. We were left with many open ended promisesm trauma, little to no action to secure justice for Sean’s life. Sean was the victim. Yet, he was treated like a suspect. His lifeless body laid handcuffed to a gurney at Jamaica hospital. The same day, the police department released false statements claiming there was a fourth man in Sean’s group who had gotten away with a gun. They later retracted that statement. After celebrating at his bachelor party, Sean’s toxicology report was released to the public in an attempt to demonize and sully his character. Yet, with all of the violence and all of the harm that detectives had coalesced their identities, their career backgrounds, were protected and kept from the public. No one from the police department came to speak with me after Sean’s death. No one from the police department till this day has apologized to me. We experienced a compound of layers of injustice with the lack of accountability provided after Sean’s killing, one criminal state trial for three of the five officers involved in Sean’s death, which ended in acquittal of all charges. The feeling was that Sean was killed all over again. I experienced hate mail with despicable phone calls from the precinct to my family’s home.
We have also survived a federal civil rights investigation into Sean’s death, which lasted for one year and led to insufficient evidence and no charges being filed for federal civil rights violations. Yet didn’t Sean have the civil right to arrive home safe that night? He posed no threat, committed no crime. When he was followed two New York City street blacks, then approached at 4am as he tried to pull off out of the dark with guns drawn by a plainclothes officer who failed to identify himself. My family attended daily departmental trial hearings at One Police Plaza in New York City. To determine whether or not the officers would be permanently removed from duty. They remained on duty several years after Sean’s killing. Detective Isnora was later fired without pay. Detectives Oliver and Cooper were allowed to retire with pay. And the two other detectives involved Michael Carey and Paul Headley remained. All throughout these proceedings, our people protested, marched, rallied, participated in acts of civil disobedience. Some of the same demonstrations we continue to see in our streets today. It became known as the Sean Bell movement. However, failing to hold the officers accountable in Shawn’s death criminally, criminally accountable for their actions. It sends the message that police are above the law, which has resulted in my family, my children, and me living through severe trauma and ongoing anxiety and spouts of depression every time the police kill another innocent person. This miscarriage of justice has widened the gap of mistrust between the nation and law enforcement.
Imagine living in a world where you must explain to your children their father, an unarmed bridegroom on the morning of his wedding can be justifiably killed in a hail of 50 police bullets. All while community residents were awakened from their sleep, having to duck and hide under their beds from the police gunfire coming through their bedroom windows and their walls at 4am in the morning. This is unacceptable and inhumane. The message that’s portrayed is you’re licensed to kill as long as you’re a police officer. And for Black people in America, the killer very often walks free from prosecution, free from prosecution, free from justice, free from any consequence for failing to protect and preserve the human life while on duty. Sean deserved to live. Sean deserves justice. In fact, no one is above the law. Failing to provide criminal accountability and aggressive actionable legislation to ensure this doesn’t happen again, is a state of emergency. Minorities are significantly affected because of the unique nature in which anti Black and anti brown violence are inextricably linked to the American system. We can’t afford any more baby steps. Baby steps caused us the loss of many precious lives in the process. We took baby steps 15 years ago after Sean’s death, We need aggressive actionable legislation to help in the mass killings of innocent Black and brown men and women without accountability without transparency. I took steps, the steps I took towards achieving justice are the only options available to victims of police murder, providing justice, accountability and transparency for Sean’s murder, would have set precedents for cases to come after he was killed, helping us save lives.
But what we are seeing in our streets today is it’s not new, it’s the result of failed teachable moments in our nation’s Black history. These several measures my family took towards seeking justice is what provides transparency for the community but only when successfully achieved. This in turn helps to bridge the gap of mistrust towards our justice system. So any attempt to bring healing to my community and to create social justice for Sean, and other victims of police brutality. I founded When it’s Real, it’s Forever. It’s a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting positive images of families, young boys and young girls. And under that organization, we hold the Sean Bell Know Your Rights summit. Its purpose is to keep black and brown people alive when interacting with police. Every year we hold a Sean Bell Memorial candlelight vigil at the site where he was killed.
And then there’s the Sean Bell family day that’s about improving the quality of life in the community and voter registration. But in closing, we need accountability measures set up so these gross misuses of power can be checked. An important step towards this reform is increasing transparency within law enforcement, swift terminations after these egregious killings, criminal accountability and legislative reform, in response to their actions. I thank you so very much for all of your time.
Sanford Rubenstein 20:29
Thank you. I would now like to introduce Laura Harper, the mother-in-law of Sean Bell, who has been with her daughter every step of the way, in her journey.
Horace Campbell 20:41
Thank you so much. Laura Harper.
Laura Harper 20:46
Yes. Good afternoon.
Horace Campbell 20:48
Please confirm your name.
Laura Harper 20:50
My name is Laura Harper. And I would like —
Horace Campbell 20:54
Do you promise that your testimony to the commission choir will be true to the best of your knowledge and belief?
Laura Harper 21:01
Horace Campbell 21:02
You may begin.
Laura Harper 21:04
Good afternoon. My name is Laura Harper. And I’d like to thank you for including me in this conversation today. I go back to the morning of November 25 2006. When my older daughter Shelby called at approximately 4:19am, saying that her husband, Jonelle, who was at the bachelor party, called her hysterically stating something happened to Sean, come to the hospital. And he hung up without telling her what hospital. We went to the hospital. I saw the gentlemen who had attended the bachelor party who had not been shot, standing outside Jamaica hospital, in Jamaica, New York, crying hysterically. We didn’t get to see Sean in the morgue until six hours later, no one could go into the back in the emergency room to see him. We were prevented. Officers came out and asked Nicole for her ID and was very rude about it, and went to walk away. I asked to everyone whoever would answer out of the officers. Is he alive? And one of the officers turned around and said to me, I don’t know. And walked away with the rest of them. The, what his killing has done to our family is irreversible. Everyone suffers from anxiety, and I mean severe anxiety. Nicole is not the person she used to be. She used to be happy and love to have fun. But her dream was taken away when they killed Sean.
She needed us. And we all took turns. Because I live on Long Island in Suffolk County, New York and she lives in Far Rockaway. But all family members took turns going to stay with her and the children to help them because she was said every day she would cry. And it was horrible. It’s horrible. Jada was three. She was exactly three weeks away from her fourth birthday, when showing got killed. And she remembered she remembers To this day, her father’s picture being on the television. Everyone’s upset. Everyone’s crying. And every day of Jada’s elementary school life if Sean’s birthday fell on a weekday and she was at school. She would have to be picked up from school because she would cry in school. She remembered her father. Jordyn was only five months old at the time. She doesn’t remember Sean, but she knows the story from beginning to end. And she will not watch a movie, anything pertaining to a father something may be happening to him. She always says no, that makes me think of my father. It’s a terrible situation. What happens to Black men, innocent Black men who are just enjoying their lives or going about their business daily and they get followed, they get stopped. And no matter who you will speak to they will all say I just hope to get out of this situation alive. But it’s not only because like men, it’s also Black women who get followed.
And racism has to stop. I believe that racism begins in the homes of individuals, because when children are born, they’re innocent. They wouldn’t care. If you are green with one eye, you will still be their friend. For someone not to like you and don’t know you. That is learned behavior, you are taught that it doesn’t come natural. And I say that because I go back to the the case to trial. Every one of the witnesses, their characters were assassinated. Every one of them. Absolutely every one of them. And why? Why? Why did that take place? They were, they’re just telling their truths of what happened that evening, when they had a good time at the bachelor party. And trying to go to their cars, Isnora followed them for two blocks and hid in a doorway. He did not have his badge outside of his hoodie. He did not announce himself. He approached the car and started shooting. What I have to say is also the barmaid that night at Club Kahlua testified at the trial. That Isnora had more than three drinks. She served him. So he was intoxicated. And during the trial, we found out that undercover officers were allowed to drink alcohol, and even do drugs, if that’s what it took for them to fit in to the crowd.
So I say Isnora was intoxicated. And he may have been high on some sort of drug. And he followed them. I don’t know if he was delusional, or was he trying to prove something. But he ruined many lives that night. In closing, I believe that if the officers that evening had been held accountable for killing Sean, not just being allowed to quit and Isnora being fired, that maybe all of the other innocent black people who have been killed since then, maybe it wouldn’t have taken place because the officers would have known that they would be held responsible for their actions. Thank you.
Horace Campbell 28:14
Thank you so much. We are now at the 20 minutes point. commissioners.
Sir Clare Roberts 28:33
Let me as a question of Mr. Rubinstein. The officers were acquitted and you had a bench trial. Do you think that this is a flaw in the system, that they ought to have been tried by a jury?
Sanford Rubenstein 29:00
Well, what’s interesting is in the state system in New York, a criminal defendant in any case has the right to waive a jury without consent of the prosecutors. However, in the federal system, the prosecutor must consent if a defendant wants to waive a jury. So perhaps what is most important in this case, was the fact that the federal government after a year’s investigation did not move forward with any criminal charges against these defendants. Because had they done that, a jury could not have been waived.
Sir Clare Roberts 29:39
How come after a year of investigating what seems from what has been described as pretty obvious facts, how come there was no resulting prosecution?
Sanford Rubenstein 29:53
I can’t speak for the Justice Department in the United States, but I can say that publicly there was a press release, I believe that indicated they felt they didn’t have adequate evidence to get a conviction. I believe it was a mistake not to convene a federal grand jury. But we have to live with the Justice Department’s determination. In this case.
Sir Clare Roberts 30:21
I noticed that there was, in the whole package of justice, some memorialization of Sean Bell that a street was, or a part of a street was named for him. And I think this is important, that the case does not, the event, these tragic events are kept before us, and not just in the United States but internationally. That there’s one way of ensuring that they’re not repeated, that it’s not swept under, that it becomes part of the happenings. So it has this actually happened yet, have they actually named the street or the part of the street? For Sean Bell?
Sanford Rubenstein 31:19
Nicole Paultre Bell 31:21
Yes, there was the street that Sean was killed on was formerly known as Liverpool Street in Jamaica, Queens. It’s now, part of the street is known as Sean Bell Way, which means — it’s a long road. But that section of the street, that first street, that block that Sean was killed on is now known as Sean Bell way. And we are proud of that.
Sir Clare Roberts 31:46
Just one more.
Horace Campbell 32:11
Mireille, are you muted?
Sir Clare Roberts 32:15
I’m so sorry. I noted that three of the officers were tried, and were not convicted. And the federal justice system was in play and nothing happened. Is that the end of the road where the criminal justice, accountability in that, is that the end of the road, or is this other avenue that can be?
Sanford Rubenstein 32:43
Quite unfortunately, the answer is yes. In terms of criminal culpability of these police officers. That was the end of the road, both in the state and federal system.
Mireille Fanon-Mendes-France 33:05
Horace Campbell 33:06
Please, please, please.
Mireille Fanon-Mendes-France 33:08
Okay. Thank you. After this killing with the 50 bullets in the in the body of Sean Bell. Could we say this killing is is like lynching as it was under Jim Crow law?
Sanford Rubenstein 33:36
Nicole, you want to address that? I’m asking Nicole, if she wants to address that question.
Nicole Paultre Bell 33:45
Well, I would say it definitely is sort of like a lynching. We are, we, the public, saw and heard what happened that night, and nothing was done. If anything, the victims were made out to be, you know, suspects they were made out to be sort of, you know, in the wrong when they were indeed victims. So I would, I would compare this to a lynching.
Sanford Rubenstein 34:17
If I may add something. One of the problems that we see in representing victims and victims families of police brutality, there was an attempt and Nicole went into it in detail to quote unquote, dirty up the victim. And that’s what happened here.
Mireille Fanon-Mendes-France 34:36
I was asking to to you attorney Rubinstein, because legally speaking, could you could you use the argument of lynching?
Sanford Rubenstein 34:48
In the civil case, in this case, particular case with the two parts that we had the criminal piece in which there was no justice, the civil piece, which was settled for a payment by the City of New York of $7.15 million to the children and to the other victims. Had there been a civil trial? Perhaps that’s how I would have opened at the civil trial court, calling it a modern day lynching.
Sir Clare Roberts 35:14
May I ask, Mrs. Bell, what do you think is the root of this attitude towards Black young men in New York, in the United States that would permit these outrages? What is the root?
Nicole Paultre Bell 35:44
Many of our young Black men are seen as a threat and dependent on the neighborhood that you are from in New York City and many of the other places you are treated in such a way. In the neighborhood that I grew up in, and that Sean grew up in South Jamaica, Queens, and that is in New York City. And it is an inner city community where we’ve had several issues with police in the past, we’ve have seen, you know, people being taken out of their cars and you know, thrown onto the ground, a heightened number of stop and frisks. This is the type of community that this happened in. And, unfortunately, doesn’t matter what you do for a living, if you look a certain way and you’re dressed a certain way, you are seen as a threat, and the police handle you accordingly to that I’ve witnessed, being with Sean, you know, being pulled over by police then the first thing they do is ask the guy to get out the car. Why? You know, and it’s something that I continue to fight against because this is part of the reason why Sean lost his life. When he arrived to the bachelor party that night. He was stopped by a marked blue and white NYPD car. He was carded for his ID. He was asked for his ID Sean complied. He gave his ID he had no reason to run from a police officer. The officer issued no ticket. He gave Sean back his ID and Sean went on to the party with his friends. When Sean exited the club, it was a completely different situation.
This was a detective now, undercover detective who had a motive who was out looking for crime, who was out looking for drugs, who was out looking for guns, and he treated Sean and his friends according to that. His target was on guns and drugs. He was on a sting investigation at the nightclub that Sean and his friends were partying in. He was there with the intent to find something. And what happened was Sean became the victim. Sean was at this club, celebrating with his friends a bachelor party. We were getting married hours later on November 25. At 7pm we’re getting married. Sean was killed at 4am on November 25. The undercover detective that was in the club was looking for guns and drugs. Sean and his friends, there was maybe a group of 10 of them, 10 Black men at 4 am in a city, inner city street walking towards their car because the club is now closed. This is exactly what happens to our people. And this is what happened to Sean. We’re all still looking for answers to this day. We’re still trying to find out why Isnora killed Sean. Why did he start this? If there was no reason for this to happen? So many people have answers and I see questions coming through the chat. We are still looking for answers. And that’s why we’re here today because we need this to stop.
Sir Clare Roberts 39:10
What you’ve just described a classic case of racial profiling. Since Sean’s death and your efforts, have you seen any change in the system that would eradicate racial profiling?
Sanford Rubenstein 39:30
To be quite frank, I would suggest things got worse in this country when Trump was president. We’re hoping Biden can bring us back to a better a better administration to address the problem of police brutality. For example, under Trump, pattern and practice investigations of police brutality in municipalities totally stopped there. Over 20 of them under prior presidents which, which resulted in consent decrees, to better train police. Those stopped under Trump, when Sessions was Attorney General. I’m urging the Biden administration, the Justice Department, has the only right to bring these actions in federal court, to have monitors appointed to oversee police departments if there is a pattern and practice of police brutality, to begin these investigations again, because it’s only through these types of investigations, that we can get some change that’s needed to end this this terrible scourge of police brutality.
Mireille Fanon-Mendes-France 40:40
Do you mean Nicole, when you spoke about the situation of young black people in New York? Do you think stop and frisk is reinstalling? Because I heard I was aware about the stop and frisk. And now they put it again? it is what I understand after your, your testimony?
Nicole Paultre Bell 41:07
In 2006, is when this was this happened. So the legislation to end stop and frisk came later on, after Sean’s killing, okay. So they have put in legislation to end stop and frisk, they have put in legislation to wear body cams. And we see everyday that those, there are holes in each one of those type of I guess, these items that they tried to bring forward, it doesn’t provide the justice that we’re, we’re in need of. It doesn’t, it’s not stopping the killing. So there are other tactics, you know, that that are being used in order to stop people, and they don’t necessarily disguise it or call it stop and frisk. But they find other reasons to, to interact, find other reasons to pull you over other reasons to, to stop and question you.
Sir Clare Roberts 42:17
Some time has passed since the death. How is the family and yourself Mrs. Bell, reacting to the death? I suppose the pain is still there. What has been the repercussions of all these years, is there been any healing?
Nicole Paultre Bell 42:40
There, it’s been a very tough road. Sean also had siblings, one of his brothers is has a really rough time. And he suffers from mental illness. And he’ll you know, give us a call and you’ll give a call to the girls anytime, you know, he’s thinking of his brother. And we can we know, you know that it’s another episode happening, you know, the families have, you know, kind of been torn apart. You know, my daughters are broken, my oldest daughter is 18. And my youngest daughter with Sean is 14 now. And it’s it’s a tough conversation to have. My daughter, my oldest daughter, suffers from anxiety. So it’s a constant. It’s a constant re reminder, when people when innocent people are killed. It’s a conversation that I have to have with her. Not only that, it’s her daily functions, how to how to, you know, sort of attack, you know, things that kind of come out of nowhere. It’s, it’s, you know, sort of a lifestyle now that we have to combat and we have to heal from but the healing has not, it has not completed, it’s not complete. It’s been what 14 this year, will be 15 years in November. And some people say time heals all wounds, but I don’t believe that is accurate statement. I believe you learn how to carry the weight, you learn how to carry the pain, you learn how to push through it, and you learn how to help other people along the way to prevent this from happening again.
Sir Clare Roberts 44:33
I’d like to commend you on the work that you’re doing to ensure that other families do not suffer like that you have you and your family have suffered. I think it’s a good cause and we want to encourage you. I wanted to just mention to Mr. Rubenstein that it’s too late now, I suspect there’s a six month window but there is a path if domestic remedies have been exhausted, to take the matter to the either the regional system for protection of human rights, the inter-American commission for human rights, or the universal system, the UN system, but of course, it’s it’s too late. No, there is a, I think a six month window. But the United States, it seems to me is guilty of not upholding international standards of human rights. Clearly the right to life, the right to be able to walk freely in the community without fear without having to be afraid that you are going to be shot by the policemen who are state agents. So I think they must be that element to it. I think, that human rights, keeping to international standards.
Sanford Rubenstein 46:10
If I may, if I make a closing statement, as we just want to make,
Horace Campbell 46:18
I just want to alert you that we have five more minutes.
Sanford Rubenstein 46:22
If I may make a closing statement, please, as we close as we close this International Commission of Inquiry on systemic racist police violence against people of African descent in the United States, which I might add, as we learned during the demonstrations all over the world after the killing of George Floyd is a worldwide problem, as well. I would like to thank this commission for holding these hearings. It is only by shining a light on police violence, will we be able to find solutions to end it.
Horace Campbell 47:01
Thank you. We still have four more minutes for questions.
Sir Clare Roberts 47:14
I don’t know if Mrs. Bell like to comment on the human rights aspect of it, the fear that Black people, Black young men have in just going about the ordinary lives in the United States?
Nicole Paultre Bell 47:42
This right now is a moment that we have to seize, we now have worldwide attention to this matter of racist police violence in America. And it is a critical moment in order to save the lives of our young Black men and our young Black women. Because we do see that there are many women who have lost their lives just as much. But right now we have to seize this moment. If not, we are not protecting our children. I saw a statement from one of our civil rights leaders from the past that said they participated in the sit-ins, in the Civil Rights protests from the past so that our children today would be able to benefit from that. And what we are doing here is now, this is our moment. This is our civil rights moment. And we have to make a change so that not only my grandchildren, but our grandchildren’s grandchildren, their sons will be able to make it home from the bachelor party. But right now we have to create reform. This cannot just be another conversation. There has been many conversations over the years. And respectfully, as much as I love to tell Sean’s story, we need change, we need something different. We need your help. Our Black sons and daughters are losing their lives. And this is now a state of emergency. So I do thank you all for allowing me to participate in this commission and in taking time to hear me and to be before you thank you for allowing me and my mother and to be a part of this and I really pray that we are able to make change from this.
Horace Campbell 49:35
Thank you so much.
Mireille Fanon-Mendes-France 49:37
We need just to, just to close if I may, Horace. One sentence.
Horace Campbell 49:43
Please go ahead, Mireille.
Mireille Fanon-Mendes-France 49:45
We need to work on to get justice, but also to get rid of structural racism. And we have to do both. Not one and one but both linked.
Horace Campbell 50:00
Thank you so much. Reparative justice.
Mireille Fanon-Mendes-France 50:05
Reparative justice. Yes.
Horace Campbell 50:08
Thank you so much. Sanford, do you have a, or Clare, do you have any other comments? We’re coming to the last minute. Clare?
Sir Clare Roberts 50:25
Nope. Just to, again, encourage Mrs. Bell in her work and to assure her that the case and the case of police killings in the United States on a racist basis is being given the international spotlight by these hearings. And so it will not just be a matter for the state but for the world, as Mr. Rubenstein talked about.
Horace Campbell 51:01
Thank you so much. This concludes the hearing in the case of Sean Bell. I as one of the rapporteurs would like to thank Nicole, Laura, and attorney Sanford Rubinstein, for their work, and we have been fortified in our work. I think the usual statements about condolences are usually given. But the strength that Laura and Nicole has demonstrated ensures that the work of the commissioners, the rapporteurs and the steering committee will continue. So this concludes the hearings for the International Commission of Inquiry into police violence, and to close to start, we had one of the co- chairs, and now, I call on Professor Lennox Hinds, the other co-chair to make a short statement.
Lennox Hinds 52:08
Thank you. Can you hear me?
Horace Campbell 52:11
Yes, we can.
Lennox Hinds 52:13
Ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters. Today marks the 18th day and the final day of public hearings of the International Commission of Inquiry on racist police violence against people of African descent. These hearings have been conducted over a three week period, beginning on January 14 of this year, and ending today. On behalf of the steering committee, permit me to thank and extend our condolences to the families of victims who had to relive the pain and horrors of the senseless and unjustified and illegal executions of their loved ones. And this was done at the hands of the police here in the United States who are sworn to serve and protect, and instead they have served as executioner’s of our children and loved ones. And the victims were in all instances unarmed or posing no threat of serious bodily harm to the police, or to third persons, as attested to the fact that in most cases they were shot in the back. In the words of one family member who testified the only weapon these victims had was the color of their skin. The last words of some of the victims still ringing in our ears. I can’t breathe. Why did you shoot me? I am dying. Those are the words that ring out, that caused us unspeakable pain during these hearings.
We also extend our thanks and appreciation to the 12 commissioners representing international experts from Africa. Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean for taking time from the business and professional activities to dedicate the past three weeks to reviewing witness statements, and presiding over the hearings and listening to these heart wrenching testimonies. We thank our four rapporteurs, Professor Horace Campbell, who is presiding today, Attorney Ria Julien, Professor Priscilla Ocen and Professor Marjorie Cohn, who helped in the coordination of the testimony of the witnesses during the hearings, and who introduced the witnesses to the commissioners. We thank our outreach team who reviewed hundreds of cases of unjustified killings of Black men and women here in the United States. And because of time constraints, selected 44 of the most egregious cases for our hearings. These cases represent and are only an exemplar, only the tip of the iceberg of the systemic nature of this pandemic of racist police violence against Black people in the United States. These killings that occurred and that were heard over the past three weeks, occurred in 20 states, 33 cities across the United States and span a period of over 20 years, showing the systemic nature of the problem.
These cities were large, and they were small. They included Basel, California, Oakland, California, New Haven, Connecticut, Washington, DC, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Atlanta, Georgia, Decatur, Georgia, Snellville Georgia, Leavenworth, Kansas, Louisville, Kentucky, New Orleans, Louisiana, Baltimore, Maryland, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Ferguson, Missouri, Hendersonville, North Carolina, Las Vegas, Nevada, New York, Rochester, New York, Schenectady, New York, Staten Island, New York, Cleveland, Ohio, Lima, Ohio, Rosedale, Ohio, Portland, Oregon, Arlington, Texas, Dallas, Texas, Denton, Texas, Houston, Texas, Killeen, Texas, San Antonio, Texas, South Boston, Virginia, Tacoma, Washington, and Kenosha, Wisconsin. We heard testimonies of the variety of methods used by the police in the wanton, malicious, unintentional killings of unarmed Black men, Black women, and trans and gender nonconforming Black people across the United States. The victims were shot, they were tortured with tasers, inflicting 50,000 volts of electricity into the bodies of people suffering from mental illness. Some victims were strangled, some suffocated, some were choked to death. Others were killed when the police used their vehicles as deadly weapons. In all cases, the victims were what, unarmed.
I would be remiss if I did not thank my fellow members of the steering committee, who have spent the last six months working and preparing this international commission of inquiry. In particular, we thank Anne Else, who tirelessly organized the schedules across international time zones, and three time zones in the United States to ensure that our commissioners, rapporteurs and witnesses would be able to testify. Finally, a debt of gratitude to Charlotte Kates, our IT expert, without whose assistance, we would have had chaos. The rapporteurs and commissioners will be spending the next six weeks following reviewing the transcripts and videos of the testimonies of the hearings that we have heard. They will be reviewing the reports of experts and writing a report on their findings and recommendations in a report, which will be translated into three languages, including English, will be French, and Spanish. This report will be presented to the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights to be considered and acted upon by the United Nations Human Rights Council. We also plan to release our report to other international human rights bodies, including the African Union, the inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and other international bodies. The objective is to make the United States government accountable to the world community, and to give voice to the people who have been struggling on the streets for the last six decades dealing with this problem and pandemic of police crime.
Finally, given the rhetoric of the Biden administration, we intend to present our report and findings to the White House and Justice Department, to Congress, to the Congressional Black Caucus. But most importantly, we intend to put our report and recommendations and findings into the hands of the people’s movement. We intend to arm the people who will be on the streets with the recommendations and demonstrating for the recommendations that come out of this report. Change will only come through struggle. And we will give voice to the people who have been demonstrating and who will continue to demonstrate on the streets of the United States. We thank you brothers and sisters, ladies and gentlemen, for your time. Thank you.
Horace Campbell 1:02:35
Thank you. That was so very strong. And thank you very much for your tenacity and to be there every day, to stand through all of this. This is a very strong and clear statement that this is not only for the Human Rights Commission, but this is a document that will stand as an intersection of the struggle of human justice and human dignity. Thank you very much.