Death of Corey Jones spurs discussion on police brutality

Corey Jones, 31, was shot and killed by a plain-clothes police officer in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida while pulled over on the side of Interstate 95 on Sunday, Oct. 18.

Jones was returning home to Boynton Beach when his car broke down and he was forced to pull over. After calling a friend who came by to assist but was unable to fix the vehicle, Jones called a towing company and proceeded to wait by the side of the road. It was while he was waiting for his car to be towed, exhausted at 2:30 in the morning after a long evening of playing the drums at a gospel music jam he hosted at a local church, that officer Nouman Raja of the Palm Beach Gardens police force approached Jones under the assumption that the car was abandoned.

Raja had been staking out a nearby hotel parking lot, where a slew of car robberies had occurred, when he left his post without the permission of his supervisor. Raja was in jeans and a t-shirt, with no discernable proof of his position as a law enforcement officer, and driving an unmarked white van with heavily tinted windows. Raja did not have a body camera nor was his vehicle equipped with any form of recording device – as is the case with all Palm Beach Gardens law enforcement vehicles.

Raja proceeded to fire half a dozen rounds at Jones, hitting him three times and killing him almost instantly with a bullet to his aorta. Jones’ body was found 80 to 100 feet away from his vehicle, evidence that he attempted to run away from Raja. Jones was in possession of a firearm he had procured just three days prior, as well as a concealed carry permit, but the gun was not near Jones when he was shot and no bullets had been fired from the weapon.

Nouman Raja is currently on paid administrative leave from the Palm Beach Gardens police force and Palm Beach State College, where he taught courses on law enforcement. During Raja’s previous time on the Atlantis police force he was cited multiple times for failing to send in required paperwork and evidence. In one case, Raja was given a “written reprimand” for failing to turn in narcotics he seized from a patient at JFK Medical Center in Atlantis. During his time working at JFK, Raja was involved in 14 “use-of-force” incidents in less than two years – almost all of which involved mentally ill patients.

Jones’ family has hired lawyer Benjamin Crump, a Tallahassee-based lawyer known for his involvement in the cases of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Tamir Rice – all victims of racial profiling. The FBI will be joining the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s office in its investigation of Jones’ death per the request of Sherriff Rick Bradshaw. Crump released a statement stating that Raja never showed his badge or proved his identity as a member of law enforcement.

Jones’ death is only the most recent in the string of unwarranted killings by police officers, specifically the unwarranted killing of African-American men and women. Getting correct figures for the number of African-Americans who have died at the hands of police officers is extremely difficult, if impossible, due to a lack of proper record-keeping and many departments’ attempts at skewing their figures.

This pattern has been brought to the public’s attention time and time again, with each incident gaining more traction since the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in August 2014. The advent of political movements such as Black Lives Matter has been hugely influential in drawing support from and getting information to the American public.

“I think that calling attention to this issue is important. It’s unfortunate because we’re still having to have the conversation as a nation about whether systematic oppression is real,” second-year Carl Romer said.

Experts say police brutality in the United States is directly related to the mass incarceration of Americans, the majority of whom are minority individuals. The U.S. has more people in jail than any other nation in the world, with 2.2 million individuals incarcerated – 60 percent of which are ethnic or racial minorities. There has been a 500 percent increase in the U.S. prison population over the past 30 years. As a result of mandatory minimums and zero-tolerance policies, Americans of minority descent are far more likely to be criminalized for drug violations than white Americans, especially in cases of non-violent drug crimes and first violations.  

African-Americans make up only 13 percent of the U.S. population yet they comprise 30 percent of those arrested for drug violations and 40 percent of individuals incarcerated in federal or state prisons for drug violations. In total, approximately 57 percent of Americans incarcerated in state prisons and 77 percent of those incarcerated in federal prisons for drug offenses are of Black or Latino descent – even though white Americans are more likely to use drugs.

This disparity between the incarceration of people of color and whites involved in drug violations is perhaps best encapsulated in the disproportionate sentences for individuals charged with powder cocaine possession versus possession of crack cocaine. Though pharmacologically the two substances are practically identical, possession of 28 grams of crack cocaine results in a mandatory minimum of at least five years in prison, even for a first offense, while powder cocaine requires 500 grams or more to warrant the same sentence. Although the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 reduced the disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine from a 100:1 weight ratio to an 18:1 weight ratio, the discrepancy between the offense and the punishment still promotes the disproportionate sentencing of African-Americans, who are more likely to use crack cocaine, in comparison to whites, who are more likely to use powder cocaine.

Images of police outfitted in Kevlar vests, helmets and masks, toting automatic assault weapons, and riding around in mine-resistant armored vehicles have become the norm in the American media. Police forces are provided with grants and subsidies by the federal government that allow them to outfit their departments with the kinds of military equipment most countries reserve for their armed forces. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) recent report on police militarization, “War Comes Home,” found that SWAT teams, which were originally designed to be special responders to emergency situations, are deployed for drug searches more than any other purpose. Sending in a team of heavily armed men-in-black can quickly result in panic and escalated levels of violence that can easily lead to unwarranted death and destruction of property.

“There seems to be a mentality in regards to the policing of civilians, specifically people of color, where ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ is acceptable in the name of keeping officers ‘safe’,” Romer said.

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