Photo Courtesy of Alan Luby / for South Florida Times
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — Instead of there being a ruckus, like many expected, it was instead a peaceful and prayerful Corey Jones rally at The Gardens Mall in Palm Beach Gardens last Saturday. When mall officials heard that Corey Jones protesters were bringing their cause to the doors of the upscale mall, the officials from the mall, which is home to Bloomingdales, Macy’s, Nordstrom and other upscale stores, went on the defensive. They threatened to have arrested anyone who trespassed on their property, which is private property. Facebook posts started circulating, warning people to take part in the rally at their own expense, that indeed, they could be arrested.
But in the end, there were no arrests and police were given credit for working with protesters and giving them space to air their grievances. The protest took place just outside the mall’s main entrance along PGA Boulevard. A group of motorcyclists even slowed their bikes to a crawl on busy PGA Boulevard, so that oncoming traffic would have to slow down and notice all the “Justice for Corey Jones,” and “No Justice, No Profit,” signs. It worked. Traffic slowly moved through the busy thoroughfare, capturing motorists’ attention, even some honking their horns to show their support.
Derrick McCray, a community leader and spokesperson for a group who met with Palm Beach Gardens officials earlier during the week, said this is exactly what he had hoped for – that all people would come together to show support for the cause. “This is about ALL people –not just Corey Jones,” he said.
But in a symbolic gesture to Jones, the 31 year old church drummer who was killed by Officer Nouman Raja on October 18 as he waited for a tow truck, protesters drove from The Gardens Mall up the street and parked alongside the I-95 off ramp at PGA Boulevard, to the spot where Jones was stuck on that fateful night.
The protesters lined the road, one car behind another, all with the hoods raised on their cars – a gesture which is made when your car is stalled. They wanted to symbolically reference Jones’ plight on that ill-fated night. “We are making a statement that we are Corey Jones,” said McCray about the gesture.
Police officers at first cut off traffic to the off ramp during the symbolic gesture, but then allowed the Corey Jones protesters one lane to display their cars. It was an example of police and citizens working together so that everyone is accommodated and could meet their objective.
But does this mean there won’t be any more protests? Not necessarily. McCray said that depends on whether there is an indictment of Raja for killing Jones. The protesters want an indictment.
Raja has since been fired from his job as an officer with the Palm Beach Gardens Police Department. But the community and Jones’ family have said that’s only a “step in the right direction.” They want the officer held accountable for Jones’ death, which they believe was unjustified.
On the night of October 18 around 3am, the two men came face to face as Officer Raja, in an unmarked police car and in plain clothes, approached Jones as his SUV was stalled on the side of I-95 at PGA Boulevard. After some kind of encounter, Raja fired six shots at Jones. Three of those shots struck Jones and he was killed. Jones, who had a legally purchased concealed weapon, never fired it.
Jones’ family maintains that Jones never knew that it was a police officer who had approached him during the wee hours of the morning. At his funeral, his brother Clinton “CJ” Jones, Jr., said his brother would have quickly gotten on the ground, yielding to the law if he had known Raja was an officer, citing his brother as a law-abiding citizen. A delegation of officials and clergy led by Riviera Beach Mayor, Bishop Thomas Masters, returned from Washington, DC last week after meeting with lawmakers regarding a law named in Jones’ honor that would outline how plain clothes officers interact with and approach citizens.
But it could be months before a decision is made by the State Attorney as to whether to file charges against Raja in the case, which has been in national headlines for a month. When asked recently whether they would file charges against Raja considering his firing, State Attorney Dave Aronberg’s office had “no comment,” citing it’s an open investigation.
Meanwhile, the protests might continue. “We might do this again or we might not (protest). It all depends if there’s an indictment,” said McCray.