MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Nearly 100 people marched on Queen Street on Tuesday morning to ask for accountability in connection with the March 2013 police shooting death of Wayne Jones.
At around 10 a.m., protesters gathered at the corner of Queen and Race streets, bearing signs such as “Arrest the Martinsburg Five” and “Stop the Lies.” Tony Soto, a community activist and leader from Philadelphia, led the march, delivering a prayer near the Martinsburg Police Department building before leading marchers down the southbound lane of Queen Street to the old Berkeley County courthouse at the corner of King and Queen Streets.
The protest, organized by a group called “Justice for Wayne A. Jones,” was in opposition to the shooting death of Wayne Jones, 50, of Stephens City, Virginia, a black man killed by five white Martinsburg police officers. According to the autopsy conducted by the state medical examiner, Jones was shot 22 times by the officers.
Soto said he does not want people to think about this as a racial issue, but as an issue in how law enforcement conducts itself.
“We are all one human race and we all need to bring love into this so we can live in our communities in peace,” he said. “People of all colors, not just black, have had issues with the police. … And I’d say there’s a lot of good police officers out there who put on their uniform and do their jobs right.”
Chuck Feldbush, a retired detective from Virginia, came out to support the Jones family. He said the shooting was “a very excessive use of force.”
“Think about the combined weight of all those officers,” he said. “They were 750 pounds combined; they could’ve held him down and gotten the handcuffs on him no problem. Anybody can shoot somebody, but taking somebody into custody safely takes skill and training.”
Soto said he came all the way from Philadelphia because he was concerned about the “ongoing issue of police brutality.”
“Black men, women and children are being murdered across the country by the police and their murders are being covered up,” he said. “Wayne Jones was face down on the ground and he was shot like an animal at a firing range. … It’s time to say enough is enough and things have to change.”
Soto compared Jones’ death to higher-profile, nationally recognized cases such as the deaths of Michael Brown, Freddie Gray and Eric Garner. During the march, the protesters shouted slogans heard across the country, such as “Hands up, don’t shoot” and “No justice, no peace, no racist police.” Soto said people across the country are beginning to take notice of the Jones case.
“People all over the United States want justice for Wayne Jones,” Soto said. “We are here today to bring more awareness to this case and make sure killings like this are not swept under the rug.”
Soto said he wanted to show the community that those advocating for a review of the Jones civil case by the Fourth Circuit Court are peaceful protesters. In light of last month’s announcement of a U.S. Justice Department probe into the case and the charging of Baltimore officers in the death of Freddie Gray, Soto said he still has faith in the justice system.
“I think the justice department is showing that they see the problems between the police and the minority communities and they are starting to show they are willing to address it,” Soto said. “Black lives matter, all lives matter. … I hope to see the police and the community work together to protect our communities, regardless of what somebody looks like or acts like. … We are not all suspects.”
Joseph Sapp of Georgia, a civil rights activist and co-organizer of the march, said he believes the Jones case is one of the “purest cases of police brutality.”
“This isn’t like Ferguson, where people have questions about if Michael Brown tried to charge the officer, nor is it like Eric Garner, where he was committing a minor crime when they tried to arrest him,” he said. “Jones, on the other hand, had no criminal history, no warrants for his arrest and absolutely no reason to be stopped.”
Sapp said he believed Jones, who was allegedly walking in the road when police stopped him, did so out of safety and would not have been killed if he were white.
“At night time in a city, people always walk on the side of the road, because you never know if there’s a mugger in the alley,” he said. “If Jones was white, the officer probably would’ve told Jones to get on the sidewalk and until his cruiser turned the corner. … I believe those officers regret the choice they made that night and would take it back if they could.”
With police officers circling the blocks by car, bicycle and on foot, Sapp said he was also looking out for “rabble rousers” in the crowd.
“There’s always a few radicals, a few people who think they can accomplish change violently,” he said. “We want this march to be the example for how peaceful protests can create change.”
At the alcove of the entrance to the bookstore near where Jones was shot, just around the corner from the old Berkeley County courthouse, the marchers halted to share a moment of silence. Rand Cadmus, a Jones family friend and event co-organizer, said when Jones was stopped by police, he asserted his right to not be searched.
“People are starting to stand up for their rights not only here, but across the country,” Cadmus said. “Wayne stood up for his rights, even if he didn’t know what the Fourth Amendment was, but he knew they had no right to search him. … And for that, he died.”
Kalanigh Gilbert, owner of the bookstore, said he was shocked when he heard news of the shooting.
“It was no doubt a shocking situation,” Gilbert said. “I mean, 22 bullets? Who deserves that? And when is downtown ever going to change? When is our government ever going to change?”
At the old courthouse, marchers took turns sharing their experiences of alleged harassment by the Martinsburg Police Department. One woman said she doesn’t trust internal police probes into police shootings.
“When the police investigate themselves, nothing ever gets done, nothing ever happens,” she said.
Another man called for change in local government.
“It’s time to change who runs this town, it’s time to change who runs our country, it’s time to get out and vote and assert our constitutional rights,” he said.
Soto told the crowd the protests were not organized to “demean the police.”
“We are here to ask for the police, for the government, to take responsibility for their actions,” he said.
As the protest was winding down, Wayne Jones’ brother, Bruce, shared his take on the protest with local media.
“I hope it brings a change here and across the country,” he said. “Shootings like this shouldn’t be hidden by the police or the prosecutor. … One of the big problems is the public just doesn’t know much about this case. They weren’t there to see the officers give their depositions, they haven’t watched the video of Wayne getting shot. … I hate to see my brother die, but I need to know what exactly happened.”
– Staff writer Henry Culvyhouse can be contacted at 304-263-8931 ext. 215.