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Message-Id: <199708041733.NAA17254@listserv.brown.edu>
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Date: Sun, 3 Aug 97 14:14:16 CDT
From: Marpessa Kupendua <nattyreb@ix.netcom.com>
Subject: !*Article: The Real Malik Jones
Article: 15707

)Date: Sat, 02 Aug 1997 19:22:08 -0500
)From: Michael Novick <mnovick@laedu.lalc.k12.ca.us>

The Real Malik Jones, and why he was in East Haven the day he was killed

By Paul Bass and Khalid Lum, New Haven Advocate, 2 August 1997

It was late afternoon on April 14 when Malik Jones called his buddy from Branford, Mark Balzano. Jones had spent the afternoon hanging with friends in Criscuolo Park, by the Mill River and the oil tanks on the southwestern edge of New Haven's Fair Haven neighborhood. Now Jones suggested he and his friend get together to watch a video.

The movie was about a black guy and a white guy who became friends. He said, 'Not for nothing, it's how we became friends,' Balzano, 31, recalled last week. Their friendship, which had grown closer recently, was an unusual one. Balzano lives in a white contemporary Cape with his wife and two kids on a residential street off West Main Street, near the East Haven line. He drives his own dump truck for a living.

Balzano's white. Jones was 10 years younger, and black. He came from hard-bitten Fair Haven. They met a few years back, in an East Haven tattoo parlor.

The nature of their friendship -- and their plans for that Monday April afternoon -- reveal answers to two of the unanswered questions surrounding an incident that has made Malik Jones almost a household name. Who really was Malik Jones? And why had he driven in East Haven late that afternoon?

You've got to see this movie, Jones told Balzano. OK, Balzano said; they agreed Jones would come over to watch it. Balzano was tired; he'd started driving particularly early that morning. He dozed off while he waited for his friend to arrive with the video.

Jones never got there.

Instead, a cop named Robert Flodquist shot Malik Jones to death after a high-speed chase from East Haven back to Fair Haven. Since then, outraged sympathizers have called for criminal charges against the cop -- and an investigation into how all-white suburban police departments such as East Haven's treat, and chase, minorities. Some Flodquist sympathizers, such as WELI radio talk show host Kevin Skiest, have tried to malign Jones' reputation to justify the killing.

Lost in all this has been who Malik Jones really was. His friendship with Mark Balzano symbolizes an important part of the young man's character: a friendly, fun-loving person who had a remarkable knack for getting along with all kinds of people, from kids he loved to make laugh, to pals in the 'hood, from a judge to a white truck driver from the shoreline. He was a funny, bright peacemaker who, like many young men, was looking for his way in life. He had repeated petty run-ins with local cops which led to motor-vehicle charges like driving without a license and a handful of minor drug charges. He had a son while still in high school, then took the job of parenting seriously. At the time of his death, he had just moved into a new apartment with his daughter and his daughter's mom. He had cut his hair, bought new suits, and hoped to start a new job. He touched the people in his life deeply.

That picture of Jones emerges from conversations with friends, teachers, acquaintances and, in the first extensive interview she has granted since the April 14 killing, his mother, Emma Jihad Jones.

There was an innocence about him, Jones, a soft-spoken woman, said inside her home on James Street, which borders an industrial area of old factories, little-used railroad tracks and the harbor. Mementos of Malik's life -- boxes of photos, letters from those who remember him -- surrounded her. She was dressed in white, as she vows to be dressed the rest of her life, as a reminder of her lost son.

Some of his friends I would never like no matter what. But he would bring them to my doorstep. I would with hesitation invite them in. And they would become part of the family. Malik was honest about his friends. Not all of them were perfect. But nobody's perfect.

Too often in highly charged episodes like this shooting the victim becomes in the public mind either perfect or fatally flawed, martyr/saint or a villain. As the victim of a hard-to-justify shooting, Malik Jones was guilty, at most, of allegedly driving too fast, eluding the police, and backing into a police officer. He was killed by a cop who didn't know him, a white cop on an all-white force, engaging in a chase that would violate the written policies of many area police departments. In recalling Malik Jones' life, those who knew him had no need to justify him, or to glorify him.

Malik Edward Jones -- Emma says it stands for master of his destiny in Arabic -- was born in New Haven on the second of November in 1975, the youngest of the five Jones children. His father and mother, Christians who converted to orthodox Islam, have been prominent advocates of social and racial justice.

Jimmy Jones used to run the New Haven Black Coalition, the main umbrella organization of minority grassroots activist groups in the '60s and '70s. His contemporaries still remember Jimmy carrying baby and then toddler Malik in his arms while Jimmy attended meetings of New Haven's Board of Education, on which he served; at Hampshire College, whose former New Haven campus Jimmy once ran; at the Carmel Street masjid, which the family regularly attended. Today Jimmy is a professor at Manhattanville College in suburban New York.

Emma began protesting racism as a child in the South, where she joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Since she obtained her law degree a few years ago she has become particularly active in protests against the handling of black defendants' cases. She led a group calling, successfully, for a new trial in the murder case of Melvin Jones (no relation). Both parents remained important influences on Malik's life, even though they divorced when he was 15. >

One of Malik's best friends, Julien Morant met Malik as a kid. Their older brothers hung out together. Julien and Malik looked up to their older brothers, emulated them. The younger brothers became friends, too. At 11 or 12, they'd listen to their older brothers impress girls with clever lines. We'd try them, too. But we were young. So the lines didn't work.

Morant lived on Lloyd Street, Malik on James. They hung out with black kids, Latino kids, white kids. That's just the way we grew up. It's like that in Fair Haven. It's like there's no color, Morant, 22, recalled last week in the parking lot of Mass Appeal, the Fair Haven barber shop where he cuts hair for a living. As if on cue, two young men, one white, one black, rode up on bikes, one of them slapping Morant hello.

Morant and Malik stayed friendly through high school. They both attended Eli Whitney Technical School freshman year, then Wilbur Cross for tenth grade. Malik was book smart, though he didn't always apply himself. Sometimes the friends cut school to hang out at Morant's house (never Malik's, for fear of his mom), watching videos or playing cards, Morant recalls.

In school, Malik had a reputation for stopping fights by making his friends laugh their way out of anger. One day Morant was about to fight someone over a minor beef, one he can't even remember now. 'You rushin' to get your ass wiped,' he remembers Malik saying. I'm about to kill this kid. But Malik kept sayin', in a jokin' way, 'He's gonna kick your ass.' I had to laugh. I wasn't even mad anymore. He can't remember a single time Malik was the one involved in a fight.

Malik knew everybody, said Terrence Terry Simms, a basketball buddy. There were little kids across town who knew Malik, just 'cause he was one of those 'big kids' that'll show you how to shoot a ball, or race you down the block.

A favorite bit he'd do for the littler kids was known as the exercise routine. Come all you guys, you're gonna have to do your push-ups now. You do 50, I'm gonna do 250, Emma recalled Malik teasing them. They'd say, 'You crazy, we'll do 20, you do 80.' He'd say, 'That's a bet, I'll do 100, you do 50.' They wouldn't be able to do more than five or 10. We'd stand there laughing. He'd urge them on. Then he'd put a little kid on his back and keep going.

Or he'd flex his muscles: 'Come on, look guys. I'm busting out of my shirt. Tell me what to do to stop busting out like a Hercules! Come on, ma, can't stop growing!' The kids would be falling on the floor.

He knew brothers in the Nation [of Islam] and the regular Muslim brothers, said Simms. He'd always take time for you, and he'd act like you were important. He didn't care what your daddy did, or if you had a daddy, or if you maybe pushed a little on the side sometimes. He'd have you crackin' up. But he wasn't no gangster or nothin'. He was a good dude. What they used to call 'butter.'

By junior year, when he transferred to High School in the Community, Malik started excelling more in class. He became an honor student his senior year, according to his mother. Gail Staggers, his history teacher and advisor at HSC, remembers Malik frustrating her: She'd complain that he failed to take a book home to study. Then he'd earn a 100 on the test, anyway.

Malik worked hard to get his black belt.

He worked perhaps hardest on earning his black belt in karate -- and almost as hard at not bragging about it, Staggers remembered. Malik did mention it once to Probate Judge Jack Keyes, in whose office he sometimes worked after school writing letters to lawyers whose paperwork for the court was deficient. He was always kidding me about my weight, Keyes remembered. When he got his black belt, he said to me I'd never get a black belt because they'd never made one that big. He had tremendous charm. He was always smiling. That's not easy in a government function, let me tell you.

At HSC, Malik could never be identified as hanging with just one clique or racial group, Staggers said. One of his great, great gifts [was] his ability to help lift people up out of their sorrows. I remember thinking about that back at HSC when the Rodney King thing went down. Malik, like so many of our students, was upset, even on the verge of walking out. Malik was one of the many who helped calm that situation down, helped people to share their feelings rather than just let loose their feelings on one another.

Julien Morant remembers a night they went to The Great Gatsby's, a downtown dance club that had 18-and-over admission. The doorman told them Malik couldn't come in; his pants were too baggy. So Malik goes to the back of the line. He tries again. The guy was like, 'Your pants still too baggy.' He did it four times. He had that stupid smile on his face. The guy finally let him in.

Malik escorted his girlfriend, Vivian Rogers, to his senior prom in June of 1995. They'd had a daughter together, Priya Marie Jones, 16 months earlier. Together with her mother, she was the love of Malik's life.

After that, Malik still went to 18-and-over clubs with his pals sometimes, still loved to hang out, but tended not to stay out as late, according to Julien Morant.

He drifted from odd job to odd job. He lived in two places at once: most nights in Meriden, with Vivian and Priya, but he also kept his room at mom's house. She kidded him about still being the baby. Sundays were family day, reserved for intimate family time: breakfast and morning with Malik, Vivian and Priya; then dropping off Priya with Emma so Malik and Vivian could have their own quiet time.

He liked hanging out in the neighborhood. Local cops were convinced he was involved, at a low level, in drug-dealing. They harassed him all the time, according to both cops and Malik's friends and family; Emma insists the cops targeted him because she had become vocal in protests against police brutality. He was an average kid from Fair Haven. They think everyone like that deals drugs, Morant claims. Jones was twice arrested on drug-dealing-related charges; in one, he received probation; he was awaiting trial on the other. Mostly, though, he received numerous motor-vehicle-related citations.

Malik enjoyed cars. He installed his friends' stereo speakers, fixed their and his vehicles. We've had people call up here at three o'clock in the morning, asking Malik, would he take them to pick up so-and-so at such-and-such a place, Emma recalled. Everybody knows: Malik'll drive you. But you gotta keep him awake.

He came to trust his Branford friend Mark Balzano enough that he once called him around 3:30 a.m., from Wallingford. He'd had too much to drink, he said. He didn't want to drive. He needed a ride home. Balzano complied.

They both could lean on each other, Balzano said. When they first met in the tattoo parlor, Balzano was having touch-up work done on the bouquet of roses branded into his chest. Malik walked in, inquired about tattoos, started asking questions about the process, cracked his usual jokes. He and Balzano hit it off. Eventually they'd get together a few times a week, visit each other's houses, eat lunch at D'Amato's Seafood on Grand Avenue. The two planned a downhill skiing trip. He got me as a white person to walk down a lotta streets that today you won't see white people. He was open-minded.

While he didn't have a set career goal, Malik knew he liked cars. Earlier this year big brother James, the one he tried to emulate, pulled him aside. Malik had complained to him of having trouble finding a decent job, although he had been pounding the proverbial pavement. Malik had also taken to mildly expressing his difficulties in terms of racial injustices.

I told him he needed to stop wearing those oversized pants and whatnot, James later recalled. 'You're not looking for a job somewhere here in the 'hood. You're traveling in another zone. You need to get ready for that. The two went out and bought some dress suits. Malik also cut his hair. And bingo -- he returned from an interview at Colonial Toyota in Milford saying he had landed a job as a salesman. He was bragging all over the place, Emma recalls. First, though, he had to line up insurance in order to drive around prospective customers. Colonial Toyota's operations manager, Barry Horton, said he has no record of Malik being hired. But a Hamden insurance agent contacted by the Advocate confirms Malik had called him several times about the insurance. I honestly believe this kid was trying to go into a good direction, says the agent, who asked not to be identified. He said Malik was going to have trouble getting the insurance because of his prior motor-vehicle violations, including driving without a license.

By April 14 Malik was still hoping to start the job soon. He and Vivian had also just found a new apartment in Meriden, in Huntington Place, a building Vivian manages. They spent a month remodeling it. They moved in on April 13.

To get to Mark Balzano's house from Fair Haven, you need to drive up Route 1 in East Haven. As Malik Jones and his friend Samuel Cruz drove there en route to Balzano's home on April 14, a police van followed them. Black and Latino drivers regularly attract that kind of attention in predominantly white towns like East Haven. Malik was driving; the car belonged to Cruz, who, unlike Malik, did have a record including charges of violence.

According to sources, Malik and Cruz wanted to test whether the cop was tailing them. So they made some quick turns. The cop turned, too. They were scared, mindful of East Haven's reputation for mistreating minorities. So they turned around, headed back toward I-95, across the New Haven-East Haven town line, toward home. The cop followed. According to Emma Jones' version, at the light before the on ramp the van turned on its lights. The chase was on.

Emma says she understands why Malik would flee rather than stop. It doesn't matter how clean you are. If you are an African-American male or a Puerto Rican, and you are stopped by the police, you can guarantee that the most minor kind of offense, if there's any offense at all, will result in the most humiliating experience. In Malik's case, it was more than humiliating.

The chase ended in a vacant lot right by Jones' home in Fair Haven. By that time East Haven had sent four cars. Two boxed in Jones' car. He hit reverse. The driver of the police van, Officer Robert Flodquist, walked up to Jones' driver's window, broke it with his gun, then pumped a series of deadly bullets into the unarmed Jones' body.

The East Haven cops say they started chasing Jones because an unnamed citizen pulled them over and reported a car driving at high speed. The police have failed to produce the identity of this person or explain how that conversation would leave time to catch up with the allegedly speeding vehicle. They also say Jones tried to run Flodquist over. Sources say Flodquist claims that the car was still moving and swerving backward toward him. Samuel Cruz told the New Haven Register that Jones was merely trying to back out of the way. (He wouldn't comment for this story.) In any case the cops, who are declining further comment on the incident, haven't explained why Flodquist couldn't have merely stepped out of the way if he thought Jones was backing into him, or why he had to shoot him dead. State police are currently investigating the incident. The Jones family is also preparing a civil suit against Flodquist and the East Haven cops as well as against New Haven for not stopping the chase.

When Mark Balzano awoke from his catnap of an hour or so, he recalls, I'm like, he's not here yet. That's not right.' He called the Jones home. No answer. That struck him as strange; There's always someone there.

So he hopped into his dump truck, drove to Fair Haven. Maybe I misunderstood, he figured. Maybe I was supposed to go to his house.

On the way, he turned on his police scanner, heard about the shooting on James Street. I didn't hear the names. But the way they were explaining things, I had a bad feeling. He went to the scene, overheard conversations, learned who had died.

Malik, Priya and Vivian celebrate Priya's birthday.

Priya Marie Jones, now 3, learned about her daddy's death not long after. Emma had called the Meriden apartment. She told Vivian she needed to get down to New Haven; it was an emergency. She didn't specify what kind. Vivian found a babysitter and left.

The babysitter had the TV tuned to Channel 8. Action News came on. She and Priya saw a dead body. They heard Malik's name. Priya knew it was her father. She's a bright little kid, Emma said.

For weeks Priya would not talk. She refused to go into any room that had a television. It was longer still before she would come close to a TV screen. She's in therapy now and on medication. She misses her father.

So does Julien Morant. I think about him every day, he said. He thinks about the crew of seven friends who hung around all the time in high school. Three of them are in jail. Two others (one of them Vivian's brother) were shot dead outside a Grand Avenue convenience store. That left just Malik and Morant.

They were torn up. Malik decided it was time for that tattoo. Vivian emblazoned an image of the two dead friends' tombstone on Malik's back. Now, Morant said, I'm the only one left.