Local pastor pushes for justice in Malik Jones case
When U.S. Attorney Stephen Robinson decided not to prosecute East Haven Officer Robert Flodquist last week, the controversial police shooting of Malik Jones was dismissed after a 20-month investigation. According to an article in the New Haven Advocate on Thurs., Nov. 4, the attorney made his decision based on evidence that Flodquist felt he was in danger of his life when he shot and killed Jones.
The Reverend Eric B. Smith, DIV '95, pastor of the Community Baptist Church of New Haven, has become a national spokesperson for the Jones' case. Smith sat down with the Herald to talk about the history of his involvement and his opinion of the recent ruling.
"I got involved by accident," Smith said. "I happened to be one of only two African-Americans in a meeting of area clergy who were concerned about the shooting. They decided [to hold the service] at a church on the border of New Haven, St. Bernadette's Cathedral, and that I should preach the service." To prepare for the service, Smith met with Jones' parents, Emma and James Jones, for the first time. "[Afterwards] Emma started to contact me, and whatever I could do, I did, because the cause was just," Smith said.
Throughout the course of the ordeal, Smith has offered his support in many different ways. "Emma held a press conference here [at Community Baptist Church], and a conference about police brutality in answer to the State Attorney's decision. I'm following her lead," he said.
Smith said that the New Haven community has been unified in support of the Jones. "At the march there were thousands, and there was a lot of discussion about the issue on WYBC and in other forums. It was not as much of a black/white issue as a justice/injustice issue. There was an East Haven versus New Haven issue at times, but now some sentiments are against Flodquist."
When he first heard of Robinson's ruling, Smith was fairly positive. "I couldn't address the legal issues, because I am not a lawyer. Robinson's decision [did] address that Flodquist violated police procedure," he said. But after speaking with the Jones' attorney, Smith changed his mind. "I thought that Robinson could have decided that there was probable cause and let the jury decide. [He] took the role of the jury."
Smith was noticeably adamant about Flodquist's violation of police procedure. "Even now, the East Haven police are saying that what he did [before the shooting] is irrelevant," he said. One officer said we can't look at police actions with 20/20 hindsight and I think that is absolutely ridiculous."
According to Smith, the Jones case is just a symptom of the problem of hostility between the police and the black community. "There is perception of distrust and disrespect in the community. For example, in my congregation, there is a 15-year-old who was riding his bike through the neighborhood, and because the police thought the bike looked like the type that drug dealers ride, they followed him and arrested him. He was found not guilty of the charges. When things like that happen to good kids, it creates an atmosphere of distrust."
Smith pointed out that the community also wonders if the police have a will to address crimes like drug dealing and public nuisances. "Even though there is a clear perception in the community that there are not enough police in the area, the police believe there are."
Smith said his role in the community was that of empowerment. Under his leadership, the Community Baptist Church is forming a Community Development Corporation, which, among other projects, is developing a private elementary school that will open in the fall of next year. "On Sunday mornings people talk about the Holy Spirit and its power. I'm trying to get people to transfer that spiritual energy to their own lives," he said.
Smith still has hope for justice in the Jones case. "People involved in this case want to have hope, but as the case keeps going, it gets harder and harder. We, as a community, have got to learn to stay in things for the long haul."
All materials © 1999 The Yale Herald, Inc., and its staff.
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