NEW YORK (AP) – Hundreds of tearful mourners paid their last respects Friday to the man killed on his wedding day by a barrage of 50 police bullets – a ceremony held in the same church where he was to be married to his high school sweetheart just one week earlier.

The funeral occurred in a Queens neighborhood seething with anger over what they view as rampant mistreatment of black residents by police. The victim, 23-year-old Sean Bell, and his two companions were unarmed.

“They took his life, but we can’t let them take his legacy,” the Rev. Al Sharpton said, repeatedly greeted with cheers and “Amens” from the overflow crowd. “We must give Sean a legacy. A legacy of justice, a legacy of fairness. We don’t hate cops, we don’t hate race, we hate wrong.”

The Rev. Lester Williams had been preparing to lead Bell and his fiancee through their vows last week, but instead was forced to delivery the eulogy. He stressed the importance of forgiveness and urged the congregation to remain calm despite the outrage over the Bell shooting.

“I am angry as hell, but our anger must not cause us to sin,” he said.

“Ask not for whom the bell tolls. The bell tolls for Sean. The bells are ringing outrage,” he added.

At Bell’s wake earlier Friday, hundreds of mourners filed past the open casket – flanked by an assortment of floral arrangements, including one recreating the one-time high school baseball star’s jersey. The white flowers of the shirt were mixed with black ones with his name and his number, 33.

An engraving inside the casket lid showed a pair of crossed baseball bats and the inscription, “We love you. Nicole, Jada, Jordan and family” – a reference to his fiancee and their two children.

Mourners seated in the pews at the Community Church of Christ cried as a steady stream of guests walked up to the casket and paid their respects.

“It’s sad for a young brother like that,” said Joseph Barry, 20, of Brooklyn, who was among the early arrivals. “It’s ridiculous. … Justice needs to be done, and justice also needs to be served.”

Barry attended junior high school with Bell, and remembered his outgoing personality. But others, like 48-year-old Dexter Grant, came despite no relationship with the slain man or his family.

“Too bad he had to end up that way due to the hands of the police,” said Grant, who came out to the funeral from the Bronx.

Several people outside the Baptist church held up signs reading “Justice for Sean Bell.” Blue police barricades stretched for about two blocks in anticipation of a large crowd. Hundreds of mourners – some of them in tears – stood outside the church on a rainy, gloomy day and listened to the funeral, played on loudspeakers outside. Some of the mourners showed up wearing T-shirts depicting Bell’s picture.

The baseball allusions reflected Bell’s dream of becoming a professional baseball player after a promising high school career. He gave up those hopes having two children with Nicole Paultre, his high school sweetheart.

Prior to the wake, the relatives of two survivors from the weekend shooting called for a night of nonviolence during the services.

“Please, let’s respect this day, and don’t cause no problems,” said Denise Ford, the mother of shooting victim Trent Benefield. “We don’t need no more trouble.”

Ford was joined by Yolanda Guzman, whose brother Joseph was also injured, and U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks. They held a brief news conference in the rain outside Mary Immaculate Hospital where Benefield and Guzman were recovering. Ford, in response to the only question asked, said her son was inside in stable condition but “in a lot of pain.”

Guzman echoed Ford’s call for calm. “I don’t want no violence,” she said. “It’s not worth it.”

Bell was killed and his two friends wounded after a bachelor party early Saturday at a Queens strip club. It is still not clear what prompted officers to open fire on Bell’s vehicle, but police apparently feared one man in the group was about to get a gun.

The victims were all black; the five officers were black, Hispanic and white.


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