Moving toward Sean Bell Way
December 21st, 2009

Try as they might, City Council members cannot seem to resist getting embroiled in controversies over street naming.

The latest, has arisen over a proposal to rename a part of the Queens street where Sean Bell died for the unarmed man killed in a barrage of police bullets as he left his bachelor party in 2006. (The police were acquitted of criminal charges arising from the shooting.) Councilmember Peter Vallone has asked Speaker Christine Quinn to take SeanBell Way out of the omnibus street naming bill council is set to consider this afternoon.

The dispute echoes the 2007 controversy over a proposal to name a street after black activist Sonny Carson. That effort, which sharply split the council, failed. And it echoes earlier controversies that, in the eyes of some, trivialized and distracted the council for years. In 2001, Councilmember James Oddo called for the council to get “out of the name changing game” and suggested community boards handle renamings.

But council cannot seem to help itself. In 2002, it decided to consider name changes in two omnibus bills every year rather than voting on each on individually. That did not prevent the Carson mess.

The Carson controversy then sparked a new set of rules, requiring that streets be named only for people who were deceased and who were known for “exemplary acts or achievements which reflect positively on the city.”

Now the disagreement seems to be over whether Bell meets those criteria. Comrie thinks he does. “Everything we commemorate in the city’s history is not positive. What happened there was a tragedy, and it was a tragedy that resonated around the world,” Comrie told the News.

But Vallone disagrees. Earlier this year, he said naming a street for Bell might violate “newly created council rules which dictate that street-renaming must be for someone who’s important to the city. Is the result of an exemplary act, which reflect positively on the city?” More recently, Vallone said street names should commemorate positive events.

Interestingly, earlier this year, the council, with apparently little or no debate, named a street in honor of Jose Sucuzhaay, an Ecuadorean immigrant beaten to death there last year, allegedly because his assailants thought he was gay.

And the council seems on track to approve the Bell street as well. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said she supports naming the street for Bell because his death “created changes in policy in the City of New York that are incredibly positive and ones that I believe will protect New Yorkers and protect police officers.”

By on December 21, 2009, 2:30 pm
In category: Civil Rights,Crime & Safety,Gotham City | Comments Off on Moving toward Sean Bell Way

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