Howard University students took advantage of national media coverage for Vice President Al Gore’s address last Friday to protest the police slaying of Howard student Prince Jones.
Students packed Cramton Auditorium, chanted the slain man’s name and held signs to call attention to the issue of police brutality.
Jones was shot in his Jeep Cherokee in Fairfax, Va., early in the morning of Sept. 1 by Cpl. Carlton Jones, an undercover Prince George’s County detective.
The vice president called for a moment of silence in Jones’ honor and confirmed his support for the National Hate Crimes Law. His denouncement of police brutality received thunderous applause from the full auditorium.
The candidate also addressed racial profiling – when police actions are based solely on racial generalizations – which has faced national scrutiny.
Racial profiling has to come to an end, Gore said.
Prince George’s County Police have been involved in 12 separate accounts of alleged police brutality during the past 13 months, according to The Washington Post. Five of the victims, including Jones, died from police encounters, and two others died in police custody.
Cpl. Jones followed the suspect from Prince George’s County through the District and into Fairfax County, outside of his jurisdiction. Authorities said the student’s black Jeep Cherokee resembled one that had been driven by a suspected drug dealer who had stolen a county officer’s gun.
After turning onto a side street and into a driveway in the Seven Corners area of northern Virginia, Jones allegedly rammed his car into the detective’s unmarked Mitsubishi twice, prompting Cpl. Jones to fire 16 shots at the Jeep, according to The Post.
Nikkole Salter, vice president of Howard’s Student Association, said all Howard students are actively involved in the controversy over Jones’ killing and other cases that might involve racial profiling.
(The students) are outraged, she said. It could have easily been any one of them.
Last Wednesday about 200 Howard students gathered outside the Department of Justice demanding an end to police brutality and racial profiling, and calling for the resignation of Prince George’s County Police Chief John S. Farrell. A memorial service for Jones at Howard’s Rankin Memorial Chapel followed the demonstration.
He was a cool guy, Howard senior Jonelle Davies said. He didn’t deal, he wasn’t involved in guns, he was a father.
Students said that Jones was well-liked across campus and in many social groups. Students who weren’t closely acquainted with Jones said they were saddened by his death.
Although I never knew Prince Jones that well, I can be honest enough to say that I shed a tear of final salute to that kind, most gentle brother who possessed a zest for life, so absolutely absent in many other people I know, Damon Lamont Waters wrote in The Hilltop, Howard’s student newspaper.
The staff and faculty are also immersed in the tragedy, Salter said. A faculty member is the originator of a petition intended for Fairfax Commonwealth Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. to encourage prosecution of Cpl. Jones.
Howard’s SA will most likely sponsor another rally when the petition is presented, Salter said. Horan has not decided whether he will prosecute the case, but said an investigation into the incident has so far supported Cpl. Jones’ claim of self-defense, according to The Post.
Jones’ death came less than one week after thousands gathered at the Lincoln Memorial Aug. 26 to commemorate the 37th anniversary of the March on Washington and protest police brutality and racial profiling.
The fact that the officer who shot Prince Jones is black only adds to the struggle, demonstrators said.
Rob Cannaday, a counselor in Multicultural Student Services, said many students were shocked when they learned that the officer who shot Prince Jones is black. Cannady said many students thought the officer was white and race was involved.
I think students tend to lean to Prince Jones’ (supporters’) version, because he’s one of them . and from what the newspapers have said there is a history of violence with the Prince George’s Police Department, Cannaday said.
Cannaday said he does not think race played a role in Jones’ slaying.
My point of view is that the officer overreacted, but I don’t think race had anything to do with it, said Cannady, who said the strong response among students illustrates that race is on people’s minds. I do think there were some questionable instances, but I don’t think we can put race in.
Howard students said they think Jones’ death was a result of racial profiling.
Racism and racial profiling are different things, Salter said. It hurts our community more, but crime is crime, murder is murder.
Other Howard students said tragedies that occur in their school and the surrounding area do not get the attention they deserve.
Issues in the black community seem like just that – issues in the black community, Howard sophomore Lauren Anderson said.
GW students said Jones’ death is not a widely-discussed issue.
I haven’t heard anyone talking about (the shooting), said GW senior Courtney Holshouser. College campuses in general are really isolated from the news. Students are really interested in (these) things, they just don’t know about them.
Junior Joe Costa, vice president of the GW chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said the organization recognized the latest police brutality incident as an atrocity.
This is just an effect of causes that as an organization we’re trying to point out, he said.
Costa said GW students do not talk about issues outside of the immediate area because they do not know about them.
I think people are very desensitized, apathetic, and not well informed, he said of the student body. We live in a freakin’ bubble here.
Salter said he is not surprised GW students do not discuss Jones’ death.
Issues are not really addressed until they hit home, she said. If it was a GW student, everyone (at GW) would’ve been involved.
Costa said GW students might join students from Howard in a trip to the Capitol to raise awareness on the issues of police brutality and racial profiling.
(We want to say), look, this happened again, how long is it going to continue? Costa said.
-Jason Steinhardt contributed to this report.