NEW HAVEN >> Before arriving at the Yale Divinity School to lead a discussion on race Thursday evening, Jimmy Jones couldn’t help but think about the son he buried 20 years ago.
“There is no pain like the pain of burying your children,” Jones said, referring to his son, Malik Jones. “My heart still aches.”
Malik Jones was fatally shot by East Haven police on April 14, 1997. Twenty years later, Jones led a discussion titled “Black Lives Matter Because All Lives Matter,” at the school from which he graduated in 1983, in commemoration. Now a professor at Manhattanville College, Jones, who still lives in New Haven, joined the Rev. Bonita Grubbs and Divinity School student Gabby Cudjoe-Wilkes for a conversation on race.
Following his son’s death, Jones said he was essentially muted by rage. His ex-wife, Emma Jones, became the family spokesperson and to this day continues to advocate on behalf of her son.
“I was angry, so I couldn’t even speak publicly for two months,” Jones said. He said found some solace in Islamic writings: “Patience is to be observed at the first stroke of a calamity.”
Fatal incidents involving black men and women continue to garner widespread attention, especially after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson in 2014. That shooting, and other high-profile incidents involving fatal use of force by police, sparked a renewed interest in police accountability and discussion on law enforcement’s relationships with the African-American community.
“This conversation keeps happening because incidents keep happening,” Cudjoe-Wilkes said.
In his discussion, Jones expanded the current climate to show how closely it mirrors fears and anxieties African-Americans faced during the Jim Crow era. During this period, thousands of African Americans, and even white immigrants from countries such as Italy, were lynched without repercussion.
Jones described the lynching of Emmett Till as having a profound effect on his psyche. Jones grew up in Virginia, and said the photographs published from Till’s open-casket funeral were haunting. Till’s mother, Mamie, wanted an open casket to show how savagely he had been assaulted.
“As a 9-year-old, looking at this picture on Jet magazine, it terrorized me,” Jones said. “Indeed, that was the point of this kind of attack.”
Following Malik’s death, Jones said he spoke with the East Haven police chief, a police commissioner and mayor. He asked that they address his son’s shooting, or risk further turmoil. He said it wasn’t meant as a threat, but rather a warning of unrest.
“If you allow this kind of thing in our community … sooner or later, it will come back to bite you,” Jones said.
Jones suggested a new BLM movement, perhaps with the acronym standing for “Be Like Martin,” in reference to Martin Luther King Jr., or “Be Like Mary” as in Jesus’ mother, or “Be Like Muhammad” the prophet of Islam.
One attendee on Thursday asked about how the current generation can be reenergized, since Civil Rights-era figures such as King were young. Cudjoe-Wilkes said the Black Lives Matter movement was started by three gay women in their 20s who wanted to keep people informed about incidents involving African Americans. The phrase itself is frequently used on social networks with a hashtag to make it part of a larger, global conversation.
“That hashtag helped keep a lot of people aware of what was going on,” Cudjoe-Wilkes said.
Cudjoe-Wilkes said every generation seemingly has had their tools be mocked or questioned by older generations.
Jones said patience must be practiced, as the “fruits” of the current generation’s social activism will bear in the future.
“We shouldn’t give up on our young people,” Jones said.