Family, civil rights leaders want answers about police killing of unarmed Black man

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Maurice Gordon (GoFundMe/Family photo)

By Bradford Mason

As focus on police brutality on African Americans is under the microscope in the aftermath of the police killing of Black, unarmed George Floyd in Minneapolis, the death of a Black man in New Jersey who recently died at the hands of police is getting attention.

Reports indicate the incident involves Black, unarmed 28-year-old Maurice Gordon who was fatally shot six times by white officer Sgt. Randall Wetzel of the New Jersey State Police on the morning of May 28 on the Garden State Parkway near Burlington Township.

Gordon was reportedly from Poughkeepsie, NY and police say he was speeding on the parkway. Recently released dash-cam video of the incident shows Wetzel speaking to Gordon while Gordon was in his car. Gordon explains that his car died and Wetzel calls a tow truck.

While waiting for the tow truck, Wetzel offers to allow Gordon to wait in the backseat of Wetzel patrol car. After about 20 minuets, Gordon leaves the patrol car and the two can be heard getting into a physical altercation. A report from the New Jersey Attorney General states that Gordon tried to get into the driver’s seat of the patrol vehicle.

The physical interaction is out of camera range when Wetzel opens fire shooting Gordon six times killing him. Wetzel claims Gordon tried to reach for his weapon.

State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said the shooting is under investigation. According to state law, the Attorney General’s Office must conduct investigations of deaths that occur during an encounter with a law enforcement officer.

Grewal released several 911 recordings involving Gordon over a 30-hour period in places throughout New Jersey.

"The investigation is ongoing and no further information is being released at this time," Grewal said. "Under state law and the Independent Prosecutor Directive, when the entire investigation is complete, the case will be presented to a grand jury, typically consisting of 16 to 23 citizens, to make the ultimate decision regarding whether criminal charges will be filed."

Many are calling for the Wetzel to face criminal charges over the shooting. Gordon's mother Racquel Barrett said in one interview that Gordon was a student at Dutchess Community College. Barrett lives in London and recently came to the U.S. after her son's death.

“The police officer needs to be charged for his murder. Six shots — that is too much. I mean for a dog you wouldn’t do that, right?. He’s a human being," she said. "I’m angry, emotional, broken inside. I haven’t come to terms with the whole situation. I’m still sending him text messages: ‘I’m here, I’m waiting for you.’ I just think he’s still here. I’m always on the phone looking at his pictures."

Several New Jersey civil rights leaders inlcuding Ryan P. Haygood, President & CEO of the NJ Institute for Social Justice, Richard T. Smith, President, NAACP New Jersey State Conference and Rev. Dr. Charles F. Boyer, Executive Director, Salvation and Social Justice released a joint statement on Gordon's killing.

“As we once again confront a tragic death of an unarmed Black man by police, this time here in New Jersey two days before the death of George Floyd in Minnesota, we are guided by the need for transparency, fairness and justice," they said. "Responding to our collective advocacy to release the video and the involved Trooper’s name were important first steps for transparency. Against the backdrop of a national outcry to make Black Lives Matter, we must now continue to stay vigilant and insist that here in New Jersey this investigation proceeds in a transparent and fair manner. We urge everyone who stood with us to advocate for an independent prosecutor bill to stand with Maurice Gordon and his family to ensure that justice be served.”

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