Howard University Students Protest Police Murder
The Stolen Life of Prince Jones
By Debbie Lang
Revolutionary Worker #1072, October 1, 2000
When I heard about the police murder of Prince C. Jones, I wondered where his mother Mable Jones was when she was told her son was dead-shot in the back by a cop from Prince Georges County, Maryland. I thought about his fiancée, Candace Jackson and how she would have to explain to their 10-month-old daughter, Nina, that her father had been killed. In the last few years, many parents have told me stories about their children whose young lives were stolen by cops-and the faces of those kids flashed through my mind.
Prince C. Jones was a 25-year-old Black man in his last year of studies at Howard University. He needed just a few more credits to finish his degree. He planned to join the Navy after graduation and then become a doctor or a diplomat. Prince worked as a personal fitness trainer at a health club in Hyattsville, Maryland, where he lived. Friends describe him as very religious, someone who "wouldn't even curse." He had no police record-the cops couldn't find anything to use to portray him as a criminal, like they always do to justify their murders.
On Friday, September 1 at about two in the morning, Prince was in his Jeep Grand Cherokee. He drove from Hyattsville across Washington, D.C. into Fairfax County in northern Virginia where his fiancée Candace lives. He was followed by an undercover cop-for 15 miles across several police jurisdictions.
Just before 3:00 a.m. people living near the intersection of Beechwood Lane and Spring Terrace were startled out of their sleep as 15 shots pierced the quiet suburban night. Some residents heard screeching tires. One said he heard five shots, a brief pause and about 10 more shots. Undercover cop Carlton Jones had shot Prince Jones five times in the back. One bullet tore through his lung and another punctured his liver. Candace Jackson was one of the people awakened by the noise-she came outside to find Prince bleeding to death.
For days, the police refused to provide any information about the shooting. The cop's "unofficial" story was floated out by a member of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) three days after the shooting. I've heard many stories by cops trying to justify brutality and murder. Sometimes I wonder if they sit around those FOP get-togethers and figure out how to justify future crimes they might commit. Their stories almost always have the same themes-figure out a way to blame the victim for a murder by the killers in blue.
Carlton Jones was assigned to narcotics. According to the story put out by the FOP, the cop began to follow Prince's jeep after the police received a "tip" connected to the theft of a gun from a police car two months earlier. Carlton Jones didn't notify other police departments as he went through their jurisdictions because he supposedly had no plans to arrest the driver. He only wanted to follow the jeep, the story goes, in the hopes of finding information that could be used to track the gun.
Carlton Jones, driving an unmarked SUV, followed Prince's jeep to Virginia. According to the police story, Prince pulled into a driveway and parked. After the cop's SUV blocked the driveway, Prince supposedly backed up to the SUV, got out, and approached Carlton Jones. When Jones pulled his gun and identified himself as a cop, Prince got back in the jeep and rammed the driver's side of the SUV. According to the police version, Carlton Jones feared for his life so he opened fire. Then Prince, shot several times, supposedly drove away, and Carlton Jones did not try to pursue him.
Many questions are raised by this story: Why did a narcotics officer follow a man suspected of stealing a gun-for 15 miles and across several police jurisdictions. Why would Prince ram the vehicle of a man who had just pointed a gun at him? Could Prince have driven away when he was bleeding to death? How did Prince's jeep get past Carlton Jones' SUV? Why didn't Carlton Jones follow Prince after he shot him?
The authorities refused to release the results of their autopsy. An independent autopsy done on behalf of Prince's family showed the shots entered Prince's back at a 45 degree angle-from above him. The police claim that Carlton Jones was in his vehicle when he fired his gun and that his vehicle was higher than Prince's, which accounts for the angle. But family members have suggested that Prince may have been shot while driving away from the cop, perhaps down a hill. Or was Carlton Jones standing behind the jeep when he emptied his clip into Prince's back? One thing is certain: It's outrageous for the cop to claim that he fired 15 times at an unarmed man because he feared for his life.
Carlton Jones did not release his "official" story through his attorney until 10 days after the shooting; Maryland has a law that says a cop cannot be questioned for 10 days after a shooting. Carlton Jones added a new detail to the attempt to justify a murder: He claimed he first spotted Prince's jeep in an area "known for drug dealing."
Carlton Jones has a history of brutality -he has been a defendant in two police brutality lawsuits. John Robert Johnson of Landover, Maryland filed a $3 million lawsuit against Carlton Jones because he lost one eye and partial use of one hand after he was beaten by Jones in 1997. The second suit against Jones involved charges of assault. Jones was not arrested or charged with a crime in either incident-only suspended with pay.
Police Chief John Farrell backed up Carlton Jones's claim that he feared for his life when he shot Prince. The Fairfax County prosecutor has not even bothered to call a grand jury and says he will decide himself whether to press charges against Jones.
Systemic Pattern of Brutality and Murder
I first heard about the Prince Georges Police Department when I met Dorothy Elliott and her family at a national protest against police brutality in Washington, D.C. in the spring of 1999. On June 18, 1993, Dorothy's son Archie Elliott III was shot at 22 times and hit 14 times by cops while his hands were handcuffed behind his back in the front seat of a police car. No charges were ever filed against the cops who murdered Archie Elliott. The Justice Department refused to bring civil rights charges. Dorothy was one of dozens of parents from all over the country who marched for justice for their children who were murdered by the police. In almost every case, the cops were never charged with a crime-and are still on the streets.
In the past 13 months, the Prince Georges police have shot 12 people, killing five. Two others have died in police custody. Complaints against Prince Georges police were up 53 percent last year. The county has paid out millions of dollars in lawsuits to settle police brutality claims. Two grand juries are currently hearing testimony-to decide whether to charge Prince Georges cops with the May 19 killing of a 52-year-old man in police custody and with the June 9 death of a Salvadoran immigrant in Hyattsville. The U.S. Justice Department said it was "considering" a civil rights investigation of the Prince Georges Police Department, and the FBI claimed to be investigating more than a dozen cases of police brutality in the county. Meanwhile the beatings and murders continue.
People Demand Justice for Prince Jones
The murder of Prince Jones shows how deep and systematic the oppression of Black people is under this system. And the police are the armed enforcers of this way of life.
Prince Jones did everything the way this system says young people should. He didn't get in trouble with the police, he had a job, he had plans for the future. He went to Howard, one of the most prestigious African American colleges in the country and one of only a handful of Black universities that offer doctoral degrees. But Prince Jones was still a Black man in America-and because of this, he was gunned down in cold blood by a cop.
In Prince Georges County, there are Black officials in the highest positions in local government. Both the County Executive and the County Prosecutor are Black, as are many elected officials. The cop who shot Prince Jones is Black. Michael Arrington, a lobbyist and a former state legislator, told the media after the shooting: "I am worried about the silence at the top of the police department, a silence that extends to our state senators, delegates, County Council members and county executive. And I am frightened that the next questionable shooting could involve one of my sons or grandsons."
Natalie Hopkinson, a columnist for the Washington Post, knew Prince Jones personally at Howard. In her column, Hopkinson described Prince as "a fine, upstanding, do-right kind of black man." She wrote that since the shooting, she prays every night that her boyfriend will come home safe. And she discussed the deep implications of the shooting for people like her: "We all want to believe in the American dream. When you work hard to achieve a certain status, you think arriving there provides some degree of insulation from problems facing others, even if they are of the same race.... We want to believe the black officials are doing the right thing, that [County Executive] Curry, for instance, wouldn't tolerate any pattern of police misconduct. He's the first African American to hold the county's top post, and there is a lot riding on his success. If we accepted that he wasn't handling the situation properly, we also might be admitting failure of that black ideal on some level."
The day after the shooting, a Howard student wrote in an e-mail message: "If any of you knew the guy murdered by the cops last night, you'll know that the cop's account of what happened could not be more false. This guy was one of the nicest people that I had ever encountered at Howard, one of those people who smiles all the time. He was one of the H.U. [Howard University] fashion show regulars, so I know you all have encountered him at some point.... It could have been any one of us." Another Howard student wrote: "Things don't seem important until it comes into our neighborhood. Well, it is now on our block. I think we all know that if protest is not made for change...it will be one of us involved."
A week after the shooting, over 1,000 students attended a memorial for Prince on the Howard campus. Flags at the school were flown at half staff in his honor. Students and professors at Howard are circulating a petition demanding that Carlton Jones be fired and indicted for first degree murder and that Prince Georges County Chief of Police Farrell be fired for suggesting the shooting may have been justified. Friends have created a trust fund for Prince's daughter Nina.
On September 13, over 100 Howard University students protested at the Justice Department. Mable Jones held a news conference to demand justice for her son. She said if the prosecutor refuses to file charges, "He sends signals to the citizens of Virginia that it is all right to shoot a man in the back five times if he collides with your vehicle."
There is concern within high levels of the power structure about the protests against the shooting of Prince Jones-and the impact of the police murder on broad sections of Black people. The Washington Post published an editorial titled "This Police Shooting Reeks." Since Prince Jones was killed, the authorities have indicted three Prince Georges cops-two for ordering a police dog to bite a homeless man and another for voluntary manslaughter in the shooting death of 19-year-old Gary Albert Hopkins, Jr. This is the first time in years a cop has been indicted in this county for killing someone.
Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore changed his schedule and made a campaign stop at Howard University. Some members of the College Democrats eagerly prepared for his visit; other students distributed fliers that called on others to make "presidential candidate Al Gore aware of the black community's concerns on the issue of police brutality/ murder."
In the school newspaper, The Hilltop, Andre Esters wrote an open letter challenging Gore to address the real concerns of students, including police brutality, attacks on affirmative action, the growing inequality in the educational system and freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal. Esters wrote that there are a "frightening number of black men who are being eliminated by the American Judicial System through racial profiling and the death penalty... More and more young, black, UNARMED men are being gunned down, beaten, molested, sentenced to death for crimes a white man would have walked away from, only to be exonerated from the crime AFTER THEIR DEATHS at the hands of the system. The black community is getting increasingly incensed, impatient and enraged. We want to know: what will you do to solve this horrific problem? The system is killing us."
A Howard law student told me that in order to prevent protests that might disrupt Gore's speech, representatives from the Gore campaign, the Democratic National Committee and the Department of Justice spent hours on the phone and in meetings with student groups. Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder assured them that the FBI would conduct a full investigation into the shooting.
During his speech at Howard, Gore called for a moment of silence for Prince Jones and said he would stop racial profiling if elected president. What hypocrisy! President Clinton and Vice President Gore have presided over a nationwide racist campaign that criminalizes Black and other oppressed youth. In the past eight years, the number of prisoners in the U.S. has doubled. Gore supports the death penalty which is used disproportionately against people of color. These are just some of the repressive measures enacted under Clinton and Gore's watch.
The authorities are trying to do damage control. Prince Georges County Executive Wayne Curry said "a small group of officers need to be dealt with swiftly"-in other words, the problem is just a "few bad apples." Police Chief John Farrell announced plans to "root out corruption and brutal officers"-including an oversight of police disciplinary affairs by an FBI agent.
But there is one thing I've seen proven over and over again while covering many stories of police murder and talking to parents and activists involved in the movement against police brutality: You can't expect the government, the officials, and the courts to voluntarily hand down justice. Only the determined struggle of the people will win justice for Prince Jones and other victims of police brutality.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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