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Protesters rally in Paterson over fatal police shooting of Thelonious McKnight

Joe Malinconico  |  Paterson Press
Protestors rally in Paterson for Thelonious McKnight
A protest is held a week after a police involved shooting leaves a 25 year-old Paterson man dead. Tuesday, January 4, 2022
Kevin R. Wexler, NorthJersey.com

PATERSON — In protest of last week’s police-shooting death of 25-year-old Thelonious McKnight, about 50 people held a rally outside City Hall Tuesday night and marched through the streets of the city’s downtown business district.

Speakers at the rally took issue with statements made by Mayor Andre Sayegh after the shooting in which he told news reporters that McKnight was armed and fired at the officer before one of them shot and killed him.

The protesters on Tuesday night insisted that McKnight did not have a gun and they repeatedly used the word “murder” to describe the police officers’ actions.

“They were determined they were going to kill a [expletive] that night,” Corey Teague, a Paterson school board member who is running for City Council, told the protesters.

The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, which investigates all fatal police shootings, has said that a gun was found near McKnight’s body. But the state agency has not said whether the gun belonged to McKnight or if he fired the weapon the night he was killed.

“Thelonious McKnight was not a thug,” said Joe Moore, one of the leaders of the Paterson Black Lives Matter group, during the rally. “Thelonious McKnight was not a gang member. Thelonious McKnight was a kid. He was a human being just like the rest of us.”

McKnight’s mother, several of his siblings and other family members attended the protest. With tears in her eyes, his mother declined speaking during the rally. His older sister, Janet Rodriguez, thanked the protestors for their support.

“We need you guys,” Rodriguez said. “We can’t let him be forgotten.”

Multiple law enforcement sources have said that detectives in Paterson’s Street Crimes unit unsuccessfully tried to arrest McKnight for gun possession earlier in the night. The sources said that McKnight tried to flee when the detectives returned to the area when he usually hung out. The sources said a detective fatally shot McKnight when he pointed a gun at the cops.

During Tuesday’s rally, the mayor came under more criticism than did the Paterson Police Department.

Protesters said Sayegh should not have made public comments about a probe being handled by the AG’s Office. They demanded the mayor apologize for “criminalizing” McKnight with his statements. They blamed Sayegh for not equipping the detectives in the Street Crimes unit with body camera. And they condemned him for not calling McKnight’s family after the man’s death.

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“We need to get this mayor out of office and make sure he never opens his mouth about Black people again,” said Zellie Thomas, the leader of Paterson’s Black Lives Matter group.

Sayegh is running for re-election in May. He won the city’s top job in 2018 with strong support from Paterson’s African-American community.

Sayegh on Tuesday, when contacted by a reporter about the criticism aimed against him, said he had not received any information contradicting the account of the shooting that he released to the press on the night it happened.

This content was originally published here.

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