As leaders of a planned protest over Corey Jones’ shooting death emerged from a meeting with Palm Beach Gardens officials Monday afternoon, news reports of the outcome flashed on television screens around Palm Beach County.
Corey Jones’ brother and sister-in-law were among those watching. Sitting in their Lantana home, where it was almost dinner time for their 9- and 12-year-old daughters, the four of them focused on the screen as the room went silent except for the broadcast of the latest fallout from Corey’s Oct. 18 death at the hands of a Palm Beach Gardens police officer.
It’s become a family ritual these days, now that Jones’ death has transcended a personal tragedy for them and become the source of a burgeoning national crusade. The controversy over the protest planned at noon, Saturday at The Gardens Mall has been just another development that Corey’s brother, Clinton “C.J.” Jones, has watched from a distance.
But after hearing about the mall’s strict anti-solicitation policy, which prohibits protesting on the mall grounds, he thought it time to speak up.
“We don’t want people to break the law, because Corey wasn’t about breaking the law,” C.J. Jones told The Palm Beach Post on Monday. “The community is going to express what they feel, we can’t stop that. But people doing stuff to get themselves arrested, Corey wouldn’t have wanted that.”
Wednesday marked a month since now-fired Palm Beach Gardens police officer Nouman Raja shot Jones, 31, three times as Jones waited for a tow truck on the southbound offramp of Interstate 95 at PGA Boulevard.
At times the community’s overwhelming show of support has brought Jones’ family to tears. Jones’ brother says he remains grateful for the support. He also realizes, he said, that protests and other manifestations of the public outcry will happen whether he approves or not.
Organizers of Saturday’s protest at one point said they planned to picket inside the mall. Mall and city officials wanted them to move their protest to nearby public streets.
One of the protest organizers, McCray’s Backyard BBQ owner Derrick McCray, said after Monday’s meeting that organizers had agreed to hold the protest outside of the mall.
But another leader, Rae Whitely, president of the Boynton Beach Coalition of Clergy, said late Tuesday that the organizers had not said exactly that. He said the only thing the protesters had promised is that it will be a peaceful protest.
“If Palm Beach Gardens dictates to us how we’re going to protest, then it’s not a protest,” Whitely said.
Also on the WPBF-Channel 25 broadcast that the Jones family watched Monday was a report that one of the demands the organizers made for stopping the protest was the city of Palm Beach Gardens settling a wrongful death suit with Jones’ family for $20 million.
“That’s not anything that came from Corey’s family or any of the family’s attorneys,” Kweku Darfoor, one of the Jones’ family attorneys, said Tuesday. “The only thing that the family has said they are seeking is an indictment of [former] Officer Raja, and for the truth and the facts of what happened that night to come out.”
As of Wednesday, no lawsuit has been filed on behalf of Jones’ estate. And Jones’ immediate family told The Post they have never spoken to any community leaders about one.
The root of the settlement demand appears to have come from a Facebook post by Whitely.
Whitely, who told The Post he quickly took the post down when he heard of Jones’ family’s disapproval, said in a phone interview that he wanted to make it clear he hadn’t spoken with the family before he made the post and wasn’t speaking on their behalf.
He said it was an intentionally outlandish statement directed to Palm Beach Gardens city officials, who had called and asked the organizers to stop the protest. The list of demands, which also included the immediate firings of Raja’s supervisors, was meant to show city officials that stopping the protest would require impossible feats on their part.
“There’s no blueprint for what we’re doing here,” Whitely said. “All we have is our passion and desire to see justice come from this. So are we going to say the wrong thing sometimes? Yes. That’s what I did in this case and I own that.”
Darfoor explained Tuesday that he thinks statements like these and others that community members have made are expression of grief and outrage from mourners who — rightfully, in his opinion — consider Jones’ death a loss for the entire community.
The protest is not the only community action being taken in Corey Jones’ name without the direct involvement of his immediate family.
Whitely, Riviera Beach Mayor Thomas Masters and others were headed Wednesday to Washington, D.C., where they planned to meet with lawmakers and federal officials to lobby for a proposed law in Corey’s name. An aunt and uncle from Jones’ extended family are among those going, but Jones’ immediate family members won’t be on the trip and said all they know about it is what they’ve read online or seen on television.
What’s happening with Corey Jones is a classic example of what happens in cases like these, said Eric McDaniel, an associate professor of Government at the University of Texas in Austin who studies religion and politics, black politics and organizational behavior.
Parents of the four girls killed in the 1963 bombing of a Birmingham church experienced the same thing when some wanted individual funerals for their daughters but community leaders pushed to have a joint funeral, McDaniel said Wednesday.
More recently, he said, some relatives of the nine people killed in the shooting at a Charleston church wanted to grieve privately, but the national attention that case received left them little control.
“In these cases, the family kind of loses control of what’s happening,” McDaniel said. “And the more individuals are added to the conflict, the more the original people who are involved experience this.”