Outside The Gardens Mall on Friday in Palm Beach Gardens, a trio of protesters were just a small segment of protests both locally and nationally calling for a boycott of Black Friday.
Promoted over social media as #BlackoutBlackFriday, the movement calls for both blacks and those against racial inequality to stay away from large retailers both on the biggest shopping day of the year and other days throughout the year.
They included Florida International University law student Scheril Murray Powell, who says she began boycotting Black Friday in 2012 and continued after the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, as a form of economic activism against police shootings involving mostly black young men.
That sense of activism, Powell said, was heightened with last month’s shooting death of 31-year-old Corey Jones, a stranded black motorist gunned down by now-fired Palm Beach Gardens Police officer Norman Raja.
“Even if I was the only one out here, I’d still be here,” Powell said. “I want to be a catalyst for change, and this is how I’m doing it.”
Brad Goldstein, a spokesman from a firm The Gardens Mall hired specifically to address protests in the wake of Jones death, said he was unaware of any other protests aside from the one where Powell stood. He said he didn’t think National Blackout founder and Black Lawyers for Justice president, Dr. Malik Zulu Shabazz, was at the mall.
“Our sympathies go out to the Jones family,” Goldstein said, adding: “The mall had nothing to do with the tragedy.”
At one point during Friday’s demonstration, a white man in a gray BMW slowed down at the intersection, rolled down his window and said, “Don’t forget Corey.”
Powell, who two weeks ago organized a panel discussion and candlelight vigil in honor of Jones in Broward County, told the man that Jones was the reason why they were there.
Ayanna Asante, a local co-chair of the National Blackout, one of the organizations spearheading the calls for the boycott, said members of the group in Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis and other places of recent shootings involving white police officers have turned out in droves.
Asante and her daughter joined Powell on PGA Boulevard, along with a handful of others who came and went, with plans to conduct other protests elsewhere.
Their hope, organizers say, is to force business leaders and politicians to address racial injustice by forcing them to recognize the impact of blacks as consumers.
According to an ongoing Nielsen study of African American consumerism, whose latest findings were released in September, blacks were expected to spend about $1 trillion nationally this year.
Investigators looking into the death of Corey Jones are focusing on officer Nouman Raja’s decision to shoot the 31-year-old drummer while he was running away, The Palm Beach Post has learned.
Evidence indicates Jones may have dropped his weapon when the Palm Beach Gardens officer fired the fatal shot, according to interviews with Jones’ family, their lawyers and a source with knowledge of last week’s incident, which has captured national attention.
At its heart: Why was Jones’ gun found so far away from his body?
When Raja pulled up to the scene at about 3:15 a.m. Oct. 18, in plainclothes and an unmarked white van, Jones was on the phone with AT&T roadside assistance, his cellphone call log indicates. But Jones got out of the vehicle with his legally purchased gun, police and lawyer statements show.
In all, Raja fired six shots, three of which hit. When and where Jones was struck is crucial.
One of the bullets shattered his left arm. Jones was left-handed, so he likely would have been carrying the gun in that hand. That bullet could have forced him to drop it immediately.
Another bullet struck Jones’ right arm, near the shoulder. That wound wouldn’t have been fatal.
A third bullet struck Jones in his right torso, tearing his aorta, which carries blood from the heart. That bullet would have killed him — and, with his aorta shattered, likely forced him to drop immediately to the ground.
If he were still armed when the fatal shot struck, the gun would have been near his body. But it wasn’t. It was about halfway between Jones and his car, family lawyer Skinner Louis said — about 40 to 50 feet from his body. Louis was briefed on the investigation by the State Attorney’s Office.
Another critical question is where Raja was standing when he fired both volleys.
During his walk-through statement to investigators, he couldn’t clearly say where he was when he fired, according to Louis and one other source.
“Where Raja was placed is very important,” Louis said Tuesday, since it could indicate the angle at which he fired, revealing whether Jones had turned toward the officer.
Raja told investigators at the scene that he fired the second set of shots because he saw a “flickering sliver of a laser,” an unidentified source told WPBF-Channel 25 last week. So even if Jones had dropped his weapon as he fled, the officer may have believed Jones was still armed and continued to fear for his life, causing him to unleash the second volley of shots.
Jones’ death has triggered an extraordinary investigative effort for an officer-involved shooting in Palm Beach County, involving four agencies, including the FBI.
The State Attorney’s Office, for example, usually relies heavily on the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office investigation in shootings. But it has investigators going to extraordinary lengths to find witnesses, reaching out to everyone who stayed at a wing of the Doubletree Hotel near the shooting scene that night, The Post has learned.
The State Attorney’s Office and PBSO have refused to comment on details of the investigation.
On Tuesday, Raja met with police union lawyers while PBSO investigators removed evidence from his personal vehicle, according to WPTV NewsChannel 5.
The family’s focus on Tuesday, Louis said, was to get answers from AT&T, which Jones called six times to summon a tow truck to the Interstate 95 off-ramp at PGA Boulevard. The phone records show Jones made his final phone call at 3:10 a.m., five minutes before he was shot and killed. That call, which records show lasted 53 minutes, might have been recorded.
AT&T officials on Monday confirmed to The Post that they are cooperating with law enforcement but declined to comment further.
Family attorneys also expected Tuesday to speak with Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg. They initially met with him last week, and prosecutors provided them details of the shooting. Based on that conversation, they believe Raja wasn’t using his department-issued weapon when he shot Jones.
A Rally for Transparency is scheduled outside the State Attorney’s Office at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Louis said the phone logs belie Raja’s account, and that Jones was laid-back, and calm even as he tried over and over again to reach a tow truck operator. He refused an offer of help from his brother, C.J., in a call that started at 2:52 a.m.
“He wasn’t angry, he wasn’t agitated. He just thought maybe he was calling the wrong number,” Louis said of Jones’ long wait to speak to someone from roadside assistance.
The family has many questions about the case, Louis said, but “Some questions may never be answered.”
Corey Jones was on the phone with AT&T’s roadside assistance — and possibly recorded — when a Palm Beach Gardens officer confronted him on an Interstate 95 off-ramp last week, triggering the events that led to his death.
A copy of Jones’ phone records obtained by The Palm Beach Post show that at 3:10 a.m., Jones called #HELP, the phone company’s recorded line to request assistance.
Since AT&T alerts callers that the line might be recorded, it could have captured audio of the moments before, during and after his death, making it a critical piece of evidence in a shooting in which no video recordings apparently exist.
It’s unclear, however, whether the line was recorded, or whether investigators have obtained any recordings. Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office spokesman Mike Edmondson on Monday declined to comment on whether the prosecutors’ office had obtained the phone records. Jones’ phone was, however, recovered at the scene and had not been returned to family members as of Monday.
An AT&T official said late Monday she could not comment.
Clarence Ellington, Jones’ best friend, said Jones’ family has seen the records and were meeting late Monday with the family’s legal team.
“The consensus is the same, and that’s that we’re angry,” Ellington said.
Jones used a cellphone belonging to his employer, the Delray Beach Housing Authority. Call logs for the government agency were provided to The Post under the state’s open records law.
The call to roadside assistance was one of many Jones made early that morning, after the drummer’s sport utility vehicle broke down while driving back from a gig in Jupiter.
The first indication of car trouble came at 1:35 a.m., when he called band mate Mathew Huntsberger for help.
Nine minutes later, he called *FHP, the Florida Highway Patrol’s main line. The records indicate that the call lasted four minutes, but an FHP spokesman wasn’t able to obtain the content of the call late Monday.
Starting at 2:09 a.m., Jones called the AT&T #HELP four times, spending about 36 minutes trying to get help.
Those calls were probably fruitless, however, since he called #HELP again, at 2:45 a.m., a call that the log says lasted 32 minutes, even though he dialed three other numbers after that call began.
The final call went to the help line at 3:10 a.m. and records show it wouldn’t have ended until 4:03 a.m., long after the 3:15 a.m. shooting.
It was the last call Jones would make.
Four agencies, including the FBI, are investigating what happened next.
Jones, a Delray Beach housing inspector with no history of violence, was sitting in his car on the off-ramp at PGA Boulevard when Raja pulled up and parked perpendicular to him, blocking multiple lanes of traffic.
Raja, who was on a burglary surveillance detail, had stopped for an abandoned vehicle, Palm Beach Gardens police said. He wasn’t in uniform and didn’t have his badge when he stepped out of an unmarked white Ford van, according to Jones’ family lawyers, who were briefed by State Attorney Dave Aronberg.
Police said Raja spotted Jones’ gun and fired, killing him. Lawyers said Raja fired six times, including while Jones was running away. Jones’ body was found 80 to 100 feet away from his vehicle.
His gun, which he had bought legally and for which he had a concealed carry permit, was found an unspecified distance between his body and his vehicle.
The incident has captured national attention, the latest example of a young black man killed by police under questionable circumstances. Experts and the public have questioned Raja’s decision to confront Jones, who might not have known Raja was an officer.
The phone records provide some insight — and confusion — into Jones’ final hours.
He left his Jupiter gig and had just gotten on the highway when at 1:21 a.m. he called Manoucheka Sinmelus. She told The Post that Jones was on his way to pick her up from her home in Delray Beach. He didn’t mention car trouble. The call lasted about seven minutes. She has not spoken to authorities because they haven’t contacted her, she said.
The phone records have some discrepancies that aren’t easily explained, however.
Two phone calls seem to overlap with other calls. At 2:29 a.m., the logs show he spent 16 minutes with #HELP, but he called another phone number just eight minutes later.
Then, at 2:45 a.m., the logs show he spent 32 minutes on the line with #HELP, yet he called his brother just seven minutes later.
Edward J. Imwinkelried, an expert in scientific evidence and law professor at The University of California-Davis, said investigators should focus on the overlapping calls.
“If I was the investigator on the case, I would want to see how that is possible,” Imwinkelried said.
The most plausible explanation would be that Jones made the other calls while he was on hold with roadside assistance, Imwinkelried said. The first thing investigators would need to do, he said, is speak with everyone on Jones’ call log, including his brother, and obtain their phone records as well.
Then, he said, investigators would need to go to AT&T and have them explain the call log, and ask them if any recording of Jones’ calls exist.