August 17, 2020, East Orange, NJ: Seeking justice, answers and unreleased evidence in the death of a black college student at the hands of the New Jersey State Police, students of East Orange’s Summer Work Experience Program (SWEP) in the City of East Orange, New Jersey have organized a protest rally, “Jersey Wants Justice,” supported by East Orange Mayor Ted Green and the East Orange City Council.
Rally participants will include special guest speakers Mount Vernon Mayor Shawyn Patterson-Howard, William Wagstaff III, the attorney for the family of Maurice Gordon, Jr., Reality Stars Yandy Smith and Jamila Davis, and Until Freedom’s Angelo Pinto.
The protest is scheduled for Wednesday, August 19 and will begin with a march at 12:30pm at Sussex Avenue Mall (Sussex Avenue and South Grove Street) followed by a rally in front of City Hall Plaza, East Orange, NJ.
Maurice Gordon, a resident of Poughkeepsie, New York and chemistry student at Duchess Community College, was killed by a New Jersey State Police officer on the Garden State Parkway on May 23, 2020. Wagstaff has called for an independent prosecutor and investigation of the case since State Police fall under the Attorney General’s Office.
In addition to the call for an independent investigation and prosecutor on the case, the students are demanding:
- Release of non-redacted audio and visual evidence of the killing of Maurice Gordon;
- Release of the autopsy and toxicology report by the medical examiner to Dr. Michael Baden, the famed forensics authority who led the autopsy for the family of George Floyd;
- A fair and impartial grand jury hearing without delay.
“It’s exciting to see young people civically engaged. The fight for justice during the Civil Rights Era was largely activated by the youth. I am encouraged to see the movement returning to its roots due to the courage and initiative of the SWEP participants. On behalf of the Gordon Family, I thank our future leaders for saying Maurice’s name,” said William O. Wagstaff III.
Nneze Eze, one of the rally’s student coordinators, said the dash cam footage of the May 23rd incident is what spurred her to action.
“I couldn’t watch the entire video because it was too painful, but it let me know that we had to do something to bring more awareness to this situation,” said Eze. “Right now, revolutionaries are being made. We continue to rise to speak for those who can’t speak for themselves. We continue to rise for those who can’t fight for themselves. Maurice Gordon was shot six times and killed. That should not have happened. We have to be the voice for the people.”
The East Orange Summer Work Experience Program was offered through VIP Online Academy, which was started in response to COVID-19 by author and entrepreneur Jamila Davis in partnership with civil rights activist Tamika Mallory and Love and Hip Hop’s Yandy Smith. The East Orange program is under the direction of the Mayor’s Office of Employment and Training and Professor Juan Rios, Director of the Department of Social Work at Seton Hall University.
Over the course of the six-week program, each of the protest’s special guests interacted with the nearly 300 participating students through online forums which focused on civic engagement, community empowerment and social justice. Although the summer program traditionally stresses college and career readiness, SWEP coordinators added the social justice component amid today’s climate to nurture youth involvement in the movement for change.
“The primary emphasis of this program is employment, business and entrepreneurial skills, but one does not live by bread alone. We have to work together to make this world a better place for everyone who lives in it,” said Mayor Green. “Even in East Orange, where the majority of the police are a reflection of the people of this community, we cannot ignore what is happening around us. We have to energize our youth to fight injustice, systemic racism and police brutality of any kind before it hits home.”
Davis said that the program – and especially the rally – has received a great outpouring of support from the community and beyond.
“The overwhelming support that these students received has helped to empower them economically, personally and socially,” said Davis. “And they took what they learned about social justice and civic engagement and turned it into action.”