For Emma Jones, last week’s violence in Cincinnati, Ohio, hit very close to home. Like the unarmed young black man killed by a white policeman there April 7, her son Malik was shot dead by a white East Haven police officer on April 14, 1997.
On Saturday, the fourth anniversary of her son’s death, Jones and a group of concerned New Haven residents gathered at the site of the shooting on Grand Avenue in Fair Haven and then walked to a Dixwell Avenue church to celebrate Malik Jones’ memory and look toward a more peaceful future.
“The legacy of Malik is about trying to make a difference for others who may be subject to the same brutality,” Jones said. “If we don’t deal with the real problem of racial profiling and police brutality, it’s not going to go away.”
Malik Jones, a New Haven resident, was 21 years old when he died, shot four times by East Haven police officer Robert Flodquist. Calling the incident a “KKK-style lynching,” Jones said her son was guilty only of “driving while black.”
Others, including East Haven police, have said an intoxicated Malik Jones led police on a high speed chase.
Echoing Jones’s indictment of police brutality, participants and observers at Saturday’s gathering, which included a protest march from the Grand Avenue site of the shooting to a commemorative service held at the Varick African Methodist Episcopalian Zion Church, expressed concern that such violence is not just a local problem.
“Young black people are touched and angry,” said Michael Molina LAW ’02, a New Haven native. “Until we can organize and use collective energy, Malik will not have justice. It happened in Cincinnati, it can happen everywhere.”
Molina, who works to mobilize student activists at Yale to combat police brutality, said there is a need for cooperative action in solving the tensions between the police and the black community in New Haven.
“We need people at Yale and in New Haven committed to ending brutality,” he said. “We need to be challenging the mayoral candidates to respond to the community.”
Others also stressed the importance of community involvement in curbing police violence.
“The movement has to come from the people in the community, spreading out from there,” said Laurent Alfred LAW ’03. “This is the starting point. Review boards are also important, but they’re not valid unless they have authority.”
Community activists have proposed a citizen review board with subpoena power as a means of holding police accountable for their actions.
“A review board without power is useless. It would be in the hands of the police commission and support the police department by all means,” Alfred said. “We need a separate investigative body not connected to the police.”
With or without a review board, there was a consensus among those present Saturday that action of some sort is needed to remedy the past and prevent future violence.
“The federal government needs to stop playing games, and clamp down, and take their blindfolds off,” Alderman Anthony Dawson said. “It needs to recognize that a disproportionate number of African-Americans are being shot by local police. This has gone on long enough and needs to be ended.”
The Rev. W. David Lee, the pastor of the Varick Church, said he sees a temporary solution until such an entity can be implemented — education.
“The solution is one where police officers do not take the law into their own hands, one where they do not allow stereotypes and prejudices to influence how they serve the community,” he said. “There’s a sense that African-American men are thugs and murderers. We need to educate the police about different cultures and how to deal with all people.”
Jones was visibly shaken upon returning to the site of her son’s shooting and said she has not yet been able to find closure.
She has written a letter to the East Haven Police Department requesting an explanation about her son’s death, but said the department has yet to respond. And though Flodquist has not been prosecuted by the police, Jones is in the process of conducting a civil suit against him.
“I just hope they don’t think this has gone away,” Jones said. “If I have to bring charges myself, there will be justice for my son.”