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Justice coming for others? Keep the faith

It was in the early morning hours on October 18, 2015, when Corey Jones’ vehicle stalled along an I-95 exit ramp in Palm Beach Gardens (PBG). As we know today, he was killed at the hands of the now-former PBG police officer, Nouman Raja. When we in the community heard of Corey’s tragic death, our outrage became an organized protest called “A Rally For Transparency,” which included peaceful town hall meetings, a holiday season protest at the Gardens Mall and a “sit in” with a row of cars long the involved exit ramp.

I attended every calm, peaceful event. Lying underneath them all: faith.

Prophet Bryce, the author, show earlier this year at a church rally with Corey Jones’ maternal aunt, Sheila Banks, left, and Vicki McNeill, mother of Tonoris Williams, who was killed by a sheriff’s deputy in 2014.

After the protests, Raja was charged. Then our rallies became more about keeping Corey’s name in the public eye as we saw hashtags and headlines pile up about police shootings of young black men across this country. Including here in Palm Beach County: about six months before Corey’s death, there was research done which found that, over the previous 15 years, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office (PBSO) tallied 45 fatal shootings—plus 38 more cases where deputies only shot, but didn’t kill, civilians. More than a third of those civilians were black—yet there had not been a law enforcement officer convicted of a shooting statewide in more than three decades. Until now: Raja was found guilty last week Thursday of
manslaughter and attempted first-degree murder and will be sentenced April 26. He remains in custody.

The Rev. Al Sharpton with the author, who acts as
the central Florida regional director of Rev. Sharpton’s National Action Network. They were at Corey Jones’ funeral in 2015.

But for me, Corey’s horrific death was profound in one very significant way: his family had such unwavering faith, trust and belief in God that somehow justice would prevail. They carried themselves with such grace, dignity, integrity and decorum that, in my eyes, they set a standard not only here locally, but across the country and, frankly, in black America as well. Yet it amazes me that not once did I see the significance of Corey’s story of justice air on any national mainstream media—from CNN to MSNBC to The Today Show to Good Morning America. Nothing compared to the coverage of justice gone wrong.

This was an example of justice served that the entire world needed to see. But it hasn’t. The question is: why?

I was in the courtroom last week when the verdict was announced. I could feel the tension sweep through the room. I was confident of Raja’s guilt, but not nearly as sure about the system that has failed blacks in America time and time again! When the Clerk started reading the verdict sheet—‘we the jury find Nouman Raja…’—my heart literally dropped, waiting for the last word. GUILTY. Tears rushed down my face and, without making a sound in the courtroom, I joined everyone else and we walked out of court, into the hallway and rejoiced that justice was finally served after nearly four years.

The guilty former police officer being led out of court Thursday. In handcuffs.
(Photo credit: WPTV Channel 5)

This was an absolutely great victory against police brutality, yes, but it’s not the end because Lady Liberty still has the blindfold over her eyes. What about those names and faces that came before Corey Jones?

That’s why we have to keep fighting. Fighting for justice for those nameless, faceless individuals who are seeking, but may never get, this type of justice. What kind of justice is that? The kind that is due. We have to keep the faith. Just like the Corey Jones family. 

Prophet Bryce is the youth minister at Anointed House of Prayer Ministries in West Palm Beach and the central Florida regional director of the National Action Network, founded by the Rev. Al Sharpton. Last year, he earned the Trailblazer Award from the Trayvon Martin Foundation for his work in community uplift and social justice; read the press release here. To contact Prophet Bryce, call 561-755-1110 or email prophetbryce@gmail.com.