Skip to main content
Move the World.

For over a decade, ever since police killed his son, Michael Bell has been trying to get an independent investigation into the shooting — and he's fighting to make sure that every family is entitled to one, whenever police use lethal force.

In November 2004, his son, Michael Bell, Jr., was pulled over in front of his home in Kenosha, Wisconsin, for an alleged traffic violation. Although a dashcam video captures the initial confrontation, officers soon pull him off-camera. What happens next isn't clear, but just a few minutes later, in his own driveway — only ten feet from where his mother and sister were watching — 21-year-old Michael Bell is shot and killed.

Police would claim that Bell was shot because he tried to tear an officer's firearm off his belt during the struggle. But civilian eyewitnesses — and even the officer who said he felt something tugging at his holster — didn't actually see Bell's hand on the weapon.

His father, a former military pilot, had seen investigations before and thought his son's killing would be investigated by an independent team.

"That's not how it works in law enforcement," Michael says, wryly. Not only did the Kenosha Police Department investigate its own shooting, but, just two days later, the police chief personally declared that the killing was justified.

Nearly 14 years later, Michael is still baffled. "How can you conduct an investigation and be done in less than two days?" The autopsy report wasn't finished yet, multiple eyewitnesses hadn't been interviewed, and forensic testing hadn't been completed.

Ultimately, those tests would find no trace of Bell's DNA or fingerprints on the gun or holster, but police and prosecutors still declined to reopen the investigation.

Michael has been fighting to get his son's case reopened ever since — and to change the laws governing police shootings. He used money from a settlement with the department to put up hundreds of billboards around the state, all asking a simple question: "When the police kill, should they judge themselves?"

Year after year, he called and wrote letters to governors, attorney generals, state legislators, and city commissions. Michael even went to talk to Wisconsin's biggest police union — which had awarded medals to the officers who killed his son — to ask them to work with him to change the law.

Finally, in April 2014 — just a few months before the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown brought national attention to the issue — the state legislature unanimously passed a bill guaranteeing outside investigations for police killings.

Thanks in no small part to Bell's efforts, Wisconsin became the first state in US history to require independent probes for officer-involved shootings, but since then, several other states have instituted similar reforms based on the Wisconsin model.

Michael isn't finished, though: he is working on strengthening the reforms to help reduce police shootings. He envisions a system where investigations are not just about who to blame, but about finding lessons that could help avoid deaths in the future. And he says he won't quit until his son's case is reopened.

Explore More Stories

Future of Cities
The Future of Micromobility in Africa
The Future of Micromobility in Africa
Future of Cities
The Future of Micromobility in Africa
In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, improvements to infrastructure shift focus from cars to micromobility. The city’s transportation plan calls for hundreds of kilometers of bike lanes and pedestrian pathways for increased safety.

In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, improvements to infrastructure shift focus from cars to micromobility. The city’s transportation plan calls for hundreds of kilometers of bike lanes and pedestrian pathways for increased safety.

Stand Together
Sometimes It Really Does Take a Village
Sometimes It Really Does Take a Village
Stand Together
Sometimes It Really Does Take a Village
Building a new, community-based foster care system
By Brandon Stewart

Building a new, community-based foster care system

#fixingjustice - Harm Reduction
Should Violence be Treated As a Disease?
violence as a disease
#fixingjustice - Harm Reduction
Should Violence be Treated As a Disease?
Epidemiologist Dr. Gary Slutkin of Cure Violence says we need to treat violence as a disease and a public health...
By Amanda Winkler

Epidemiologist Dr. Gary Slutkin of Cure Violence says we need to treat violence as a disease and a public health crisis and employ the same types of strategies we use in medicine to treat violence.

Longreads
Unsolved Murders: America's Disappointing Murder Clearance Rate
Unsolved Murders: America's Disappointing Murder Clearance Rate
Longreads
Unsolved Murders: America's Disappointing Murder Clearance Rate
The evidence suggests that most murderers get away with it. Here's what we can do about that.

The evidence suggests that most murderers get away with it. Here's what we can do about that.

Headstrong
How Veterans Help Each Other Heal Through Therapy
How Veterans Help Each Other Heal Through Therapy
Watch Now
Headstrong
How Veterans Help Each Other Heal Through Therapy
Headstrong believes that trauma is treatable.
Watch Now

Veterans returning home with PTSD often face many of the same stigmas around getting help that civilians face and aren’t always able to access the care they need to recover. But Headstrong, a nonprofit founded by veterans to help other veterans, believes that trauma is treatable. They provide veterans with free access to quality therapists who offer them the tailored support they really need to get better and adjust to life...

Coalfield Development
Rebuilding Coal Country
Rebuilding Coal Country
Watch Now
Coalfield Development
Rebuilding Coal Country
Meet the nonprofit bringing jobs back to coal country.
Watch Now

Coalfield Development is a nonprofit on a mission to unlock the resources and potential of coal country. Partnering with local entrepreneurs, they've helped launch six new businesses and trained hundreds of workers across Appalachia. They provide education and training for unemployed workers, from college courses to trade skills, and partner with businesses to help them succeed on the job. The coal jobs might not be coming...

On The Cusp
This Week in Ideas: How to Form Good Habits, the Case Against Empathy, and a...
This Week in Ideas: How to Form Good Habits, the Case Against Empathy, and a Miracle Cure Derailed
On The Cusp
This Week in Ideas: How to Form Good Habits, the Case Against Empathy, and a...
From how to make good habits (and keep them) to a crisis at the NIH, it's a new edition of our week in ideas.
By Mike Riggs

From how to make good habits (and keep them) to a crisis at the NIH, it's a new edition of our week in ideas.

On The Cusp
This Week in Ideas: Fighting Addiction With Implants, Using VR to Educate, Amazon...
This Week in Ideas: Fighting Addiction With Implants, Using VR to Educate, Amazon Prime Gets Primer
On The Cusp
This Week in Ideas: Fighting Addiction With Implants, Using VR to Educate, Amazon...
An arm implant to treat opioid addiction, teaching hair stylists with VR, and a potential Amazon Prime game changer.
By Mike Riggs

An arm implant to treat opioid addiction, teaching hair stylists with VR, and a potential Amazon Prime game changer.

Culture
What We Need Right Now Is a Little Bit of Hans Rosling
What We Need Right Now Is a Little Bit of Hans Rosling
Culture
What We Need Right Now Is a Little Bit of Hans Rosling
The Swedish public health researcher says that, contrary to most of what you hear, the world is actually moving in...
By Mike Riggs

The Swedish public health researcher says that, contrary to most of what you hear, the world is actually moving in the right direction.