The Houston Texans are visiting the Miami Dolphins this weekend for a Week 7 showdown at Sun Life Stadium. But at least one player, former University of Miami star defensive tackle and current Texan, will be playing with a heavy heart following the shooting death of Corey Jones.
Wilfork, who attended Santaluces High in Palm Beach with Jones, opened up to Houston Texans' beat reporters on Thursday as he readied for Sunday's game.
“It’s a tough situation to be in, especially for the immediate family," Wilfork said. "But at the same time, everything has consequences. We’re working now hard to figure things out. We’re going to continue to get justice and that’s how it is right now."
Jones was shot and killed by a plain-clothes on-duty Palm Beach Gardens Police Officer last Sunday.
The officer, Nouman Raja, has had a history of reprimands at his former job as a cop in Atlantis, Florida. He also failed to disclose to PBGPD that he had been reprimanded for not turning in morphine as evidence that he had seized from a suspect. On the night of the shooting, Raja was driving in an unmarked white van with tinted windows and wearing a t-shirt, jeans and ball cap. He also didn't have his badge visible, nor was he wearing a body cam.
The circumstances of Jones' death have been shrouded in mystery and controversy, particular since police have been slow in revealing the whole story of what happened that night. Jones, a local musician described as "gentle" and "professional" was found dead 80-100 feet from his stalled out car off a Palm Beach highway exit. According to his family's attorney, Jones was shot three times in the back by Naja, who fired six shots in total.
The Palm Beach Sheriff's Office has launched an investigation, while the Legislative Black Caucus called for an independent investigation. This was followed by State Attorney Dave Aronberg announcing that his office was conducting an independent investigation with support from Gov. Rick Scott's office.
For his part, Wilfork, like most of Jones' friends, family and members of the community, wants justice for Corey.
"I think so far everything is nationwide, it’s been across the world this story," Wilfork said. "The crazy thing is it’s not the first time this has happened. We’ve seen a lot of this going on in society, but especially when it affects you personally, when it’s your own family, that’s for me to be in the spot that I’m in, it just gives me an opportunity to speak about it. I’m not bashful about speaking about it. I have tons of respect for law enforcement. I have friends that are police officers and cops, so I have nothing against them. But at the same time, we’re dealing with somebody that was shot dead. We have to figure it out as a society. Not just this case, but the cases that have been going on for a while now. We have to try and figure out a solution. I think everybody needs to be held accountable, plain and simple.”
Wilfork says he's going to use his position as an NFL player to bring awareness to Corey's death, particularly this week as he heads back home to play against the Dolphins.
"This week, this is my purpose. To have the platform I have to speak about it, that’s what it’s all about. I’m going to go down there and see them, visit his family. He is family to me, but he has immediate family down there. At this point, it means a lot for them, for everybody to come together and just be with one another and pray about the whole situation. That’s where we’re at right now, so hopefully we can get it situated and justice can be served.”
Making references to Ferguson and Black Lives Matter, Wilfork told the media that he's unclear whether there's been any progress socially with the issue of black men being killed by police officers. Now however, he says, it's hit him personally.
"Right now, there’s still stuff coming out in the media about what’s going on," he said. "We just got to let it play out. But like I said, at the end of the day, you have somebody’s child, you have somebody’s family member that’s dead. We have to deal with it. It’s that simple. Right now, we’re going to deal with these consequences and hopefully the right thing will happen. That’s what we’re praying for, that’s what we’re pushing for and we’re not going to stop pushing either. Like I said, there’s a lot of it that’s been going on in the world, but it’s different when it affects you personally. That affects me personally.”
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Wilfork says it'll be hard to concentrate during Sunday's game, but he says he's ready to set his thoughts aside to focus on the game. While he admits that he'll be playing with a heavy heart, Wilfork says he'll play as he normally does and deal with his thoughts and feelings later.
But he does recognize his role as a professional football player and what that means to this issue.
"My family, we’re going to deal with it. I’m going to use this platform to deal with it,” he said
Wilfork then added, "It’s going to be going through my mind until justice is served, so my main job is to make sure the family knows that I’m with them. We’re all sticking together on this. We’re going to do what we can to get this justice served.”