Family, friends, and community activists gathered outside City Hall in Paterson, New Jersey, Tuesday night to demand answers about the fatal police shooting of Thelonious McKnight Jr.
The 25-year-old, affectionately known by his loved ones as “RaRa,” was shot and killed
by Paterson police officers on the evening of Dec. 29, and now his loved ones are demanding officials reveal the identities of the officers involved in his death, according to a press release provided to BLACK ENTERPRISE.
“He was a kid. All he did was want to laugh, have fun, be around friends, be around family,” said Janet Rodriguez, McKnight’s older sister, reports NJ.com. “He was the heartbeat of our family. How are we supposed to live without our heartbeat?”
Devastated loved ones and activists took the issue to local and state officials at the rally, including Mayor Andre Sayegh. He told news reporters that McKnight was armed and fired at the officers before one of them shot and killed him. The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, which is overseeing the investigation, also stated that a gun was found near his body. However, protesters insist McKnight was not armed and had his hands up when he was shot.
Duke Snider was with McKnight and other friends on that unfortunate night and is actively working with community activists to protect his friend’s innocence and get justice. The young men were standing near the East Main Deli and Grocery entrance on East Main Street around 9 p.m.
“A cop car drove by and then came back and stopped,” Snider said in a statement. “One of the cops came up and went straight for RaRa. Then two other cops joined him. They marched RaRa toward the backyard and made him take his hands out of his pockets.”
Snider recalled McKnight facing the police with his hands up when they opened fire.
“He didn’t have a weapon on him. And the photos clearly show, and the video, shows that he had a bottle of Tito’s and a cell phone,” said Joseph Moore, a member of the local Black Lives Matter group. “As blurry as the video is, it’s clear as day what happened, as far as what the police did,” Moore said.
BLM Paterson issued a statement, demanding that the State Attorney General’s Office release body cam and video footage of McKnight’s death as well.
“Instead of de-escalating when arriving on the scene, officers instead escalate with violence, leaving the victim injured or worse,” said Zellie Thomas, lead organizer of the Paterson Chapter of Black Lives Matter, in the news release. “There is a lack of trust between the community and the Paterson police, who have had multiple indictments of officers over the past 3 years. We are calling for full transparency. We know that just because the police said something happened doesn’t mean it’s true.”
McKnight’s family has organized a GoFundMe to help pay for funeral and related costs. In addition, BLM Paterson launched an online petition on the COMMUNITYx App calling for the NJ Attorney General’s office to release body cam and video footage of the incident. The petition has garnered nearly 2,000 signatures as of Wednesday afternoon.