Less than a month after Corey Jones was shot dead beside his broken-down car by a plainclothes Palm Beach Gardens police officer, his older brother, C.J., used his sibling's drums in a performance. Though he had been playing percussion since he was 5 years , C.J. says he did something he had never done before: He stood up in the middle of the set and played more fervently.
"I never did that move before; that was my brother's signature move," C.J. tells New Times. "It felt like Corey was breathing into me, like he was in me and made me do it."
C.J. Jones now tries to keep Corey's possessions (a hat, a shirt, his drums) with him at all times. It makes him feel closer to his little brother and has provided consolation in what has been a trying year for the Jones' family and their friends. Next Tuesday marks the one-year anniversary of Corey Jones' shooting death by police, and now more than ever C.J. Jones asks that everyone who rallied for his brother come together to demand justice in the civil and criminal cases against the former officer who shot Jones six times, Nouman Raja, and in the larger effort to establish more transparency in officer shootings.
So on the 500 Block of Clematis Street this Saturday night, C.J. and Corey's friend, Michael Marsh, have organized a block party with music, speakers, and food in Corey's honor. It's called Keep the Beat Alive.
"The pain will never go away," C.J. says. "It's important for everyone to do something for their loved ones. If not, Corey dies off and no one will know who he is."
Family and friends describe Corey as a mild-mannered, polite young man with a contagious smile. "He got a long with everyone," former classmate Michael Marsh says. "He had friends from all walks of life." Corey Jones came from a large family that was especially talented in music and football. In middle school in Boynton Beach, Corey played the French horn. In high school, he played football. He graduated from the University of Akron in Ohio with degrees in business administration and music. In his spare time, he mentored African American youths. At the time of his death, the 31-year-old worked for the local housing authority in Delray Beach and was a drummer in Future Prezidents and a band at the Bible Church of God.
"Corey could get along with anyone," his uncle John Slocum tells New Times. "He was so mild-mannered; nothing phased him. He always had a smile on his face."
Then on October 18, 2015, Corey's Hyundai broke down on the southbound exit ramp of Interstate 95 and PGA Boulevard. He had been playing at a show with his band, Future Prezidents, at Johnny Mangos Tiki Bar & Grill in Jupiter. He had called his brother, C.J., and a bandmate for help. But at 3:15 a.m., a plainclothes police officer in an white van and tinted windows approached Corey. Nouman Raja, a Palm Beach Gardens officer, would later claim that he was working on-duty burglary surveillance when he was confronted by Corey Jones, whom he said was armed. Raja fired six times, striking the 31-year-old three times, including once in the aorta. His body and gun was found at least 80 feet away from the abandoned car. Family and friends believe he was running away.
Every step along the way has been painful for the family. It took nearly 14 hours to notify worried relatives that Corey had died. It took a month for Palm Beach Gardens police to terminate Nouman Raja. Most egregiously, it took seven months for the Palm Beach County State Attorney's Office to indict Raja on criminal charges of manslaughter by culpable negligence and attempted first-degree murder. Since posting bond, Raja has been out on house arrest, which concerns C.J. and other families. "On house arrest, he's with his family," Michael Marsh says. "Corey will never be with his family."
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Life without Corey has been difficult for family and friends. His uncle reports that family gatherings are no longer the same. Holidays and school ceremonies with C.J.'s children are the toughest. "Corey was very involved with his brother's children," his uncle John Slocum says. "That hollowness is there, and it's very difficult to deal with."
Corey's classmate, Michael Marsh, points out a silver lining that has appeared in the past year: The Palm Beach Gardens Police Department spent approximately $300,000 to equip their officers with body cameras. Friends and family believe that all law enforcement should be required to wear them.
Starting at 4 p.m. Saturday, family and friends of Corey Jones will welcome the community to a block party on Clematis Street to remember the talented young man. They hope to sell shirts with Corey's image and eventually raise enough money to fund a scholarship in his name. There will be music, spoken word, speakers, and plenty of food. The idea is to revitalize the #JusticeForCorey campaign.
"I promise you that anybody who steps foot in Florida will know Corey Jones," C.J. says.