A Mother's Fight For Justice: The Monique Rodwell Interview

Last June, Monique Rodwell came home from a doctor’s appointment to find that her sons, Justin, Jaykil, Brandon, and Jasper, were not home. Even worse, a squad of police cars, along with police officers, both plain clothes and uniforms, were in front of her house. A black mother’s worst nightmare

A Mother's Fight For Justice: The Monique Rodwell Interview

Important Note & Update about the Rodwell-Spivey case: On July 26th, a motion for Justin’s release was granted, and he is now home. However, he and his brothers face trial on October 3rd, 2022. If convicted, his brothers face up to 21 years in prison, and Justin faces the worst penalty, 43 years. The fight is not over! Continue to support Justin Rodwell and his family.

“God is a black woman”; “Black women are superheroes”; “Black women are supreme.” These statements are often repeated on social media and displayed on t-shirts. While the statements are meant to empower and uplift the black woman, often it hurts more than it helps. The statements are usually empty and gloss over black women's struggles due to a system that was never meant to protect or benefit them. Yes, black women are strong, black women are brave, and black women are resilient. But black women are also sick and tired of being sick and tired. Black women are exhausted. Black women need support. Such as the case with Monique Rodwell.

On June 1 st, 2021, Monique came home from a doctor’s appointment to find that her sons, Justin, Jaykill, Brandon, and Jasper, were not home. Even worse, a squad of police cars, along with police officers, both plainclothes and uniforms, were in front of her house. A black mother’s worst nightmare. After Monique repeatedly asked what was going on, the events of that day began to unfold.

Two of Monique’s sons, Justin and Jaykil, aka Supreme, were looking at clothing and accessories in a local vendor’s van, getting ready to purchase some belts, when an unmarked police vehicle pulled up in front of the two men. Soon thereafter, a scuffle ensued, where the police officers, without announcing who they were, initiated the assault on Justin and Jaykil, with the other brothers, Branden, and Jasper, intervening to defend them. All four men were shortly taken into custody afterward; All were released except for Justin, who has been detained at Essex County Correctional facility, one of the worst prisons in New Jersey, since the incident occurred.

Rodwell, 51, along with a slew of supporters, have been fighting tooth and nail, demanding that the courts release Justin and drop the charges against all the brothers, having rallies downtown Newark, taking to social media, tirelessly utilizing every piece of resource to her advantage to spread more awareness about the situation. Because of her efforts, Monique and her family have been subject to harassment and intimidation by the Newark Police Department, including raiding her home and stalking her son as he was walking home from the corner store with his daughter.

I took the liberty of interviewing Monique on the porch of her two-story Newark home. Despite the situation she and her family is experiencing, the weariness she feels doesn’t stamp out her warm, hospitable nature; offering me a drink as we sit down to talk.

S.R.: How long have you and your family lived in Newark?

M.R.: I’m 51 years old, I grew up in Newark. I’ve lived in Newark, Irvington, and East Orange all my life; I went to Irvington High. In grammar school, I went to Hawthorne.

S.R.: Tell us about who you are and about your sons.

M.R.: Well, I’m a mother of five kids. And we’re a very close family. I raised them all together and also other people’s kids who were less fortunate where I lived. All the cousins kept everybody as one good big family, trying to keep the kids out of trouble. And I think I did a wonderful job you know, because everyone grew up with love in their heart. Respectful, everywhere I move, every adult told me that my sons are very respectful. So, I know that’s true because everyone tells me that. I raised my sons, as you can see, to take care of people. My son, my baby boy who is 24 years old, he had a friend who had nowhere to sleep, and he didn’t want him out in the cold. He let him stay in his room. That’s how I raise my kids, they care about everybody else.

And my sons have an entertainment business, my nephew also has an entertainment business. He was there the day my sons were attacked by undercover officers. They don’t get in no trouble; they try to keep the peace with everybody. They try to stop other people from beefing with each other. With their entertainment business they have, they throw parties to stop the violence. You know in Newark, there’s all different types of gangs, they’ll bring them together and nobody gets hurt-a peace party, that’s what I call it. I think that’s a wonderful thing when it comes down to young teenagers because when I look around I see these young teenagers out here. They don’t got no guidance, they’re killing each other. And if you can bring them together, like have them understand why you’re hurting each other, y’all don’t have no beef. I think that’s a big thing, what my son was doing. Maybe somebody didn’t like it, I don’t know, but I think it was a great thing.

S.R.: Can you recall that fateful day last year?

M.R.: So, on that day, I was coming from the doctor. I didn’t know what was going on. All I know is I came home. None of my boys were there, they were all gone. And I see all of these cops, and these plainclothes officers. I see people wearing suits so at this point, I still don’t know what’s going on. Everybody’s walking by and I’m like ‘what’s going on?’ But I see them look on the ground. You know, I’m a mother, so I’m thinking they’re looking for shells or something, like something happened, I don’t know what’s going on. From two doors down, a neighbor says, ‘that’s the mother right there!’

And I’m like, ‘my sons!’ And the prosecutor, he had a suit on, he came to the window of my car. He says to me, ‘We got a call that somebody had a gun’ so especially in head, I’m like ‘my son?’ You know, so I’m like, ‘Do you need to come into my house? I’m thinking because they keep looking at my backyard and looking around. When they said, there’s a gun involved, I think ‘No, not my sons’. I said, ‘Do you want to come in my house?’ And they go ‘No, miss, everything is good, we don’t need to come into your house. So, I ask why are all these people walking through the backyard? I asked them if they wanted to come into my house three extra times.

He didn’t want to come in, so I said OK, that’s fine. I just started to sit there to find out some more information. Other people are saying somebody beat up on a cop, they jumped the cops and beat them up and a gang jumped out. So now I’m all confused, I’m not knowing what’s going on.

Then, when I saw the video of my son, somebody had videos of my son being slammed to the ground on his head. It bought tears to my eyes. Now, that wasn’t the beginning of the video; My two youngest sons turned themselves in to the cops; They wanted to do a video to explain their side of the story before they turned themselves in and exactly what they said- the police put out a video where my son said matches what’s going on in the video, and I’m disgusted, like they just beat my son, and tears are falling down my eyes, like this is happening to me, like you wouldn’t expect this to happen to you, because it’s always happened anywhere else. So, for two days, I cried. I had to make myself stronger and do something to help my sons.

On the second (of last year), a prosecutor office guy tries to force his way in my house- he forced his way in the door, a big heavy guy. I was on my way downstairs and I just had an anxiety attack, I was panicking, I was slurring my words and I didn’t realize it till they let me see the video later. But you know I was slurring my words and I heard my daughter, ‘No you’re not talking to my mother!” My daughter was up here, because a year before that happened, my mother passed away. So, on the third, we were going to spread her ashes- And that’s why I told the prosecutor I was going to do, you know, my sons are gone but I’m still gonna spread my mother’s ashes. But, on the third they kicked my door in and came into my house. It wasn’t regular officers, these guys looked like they was from Vietnam, like we had done something like kill somebody.

My son’s girlfriend asks, ‘What do y’all want? Who y’all looking for? Y’all got a search warrant? When they came up, I asked the same thing- nobody said anything, they just sit and wait. Then they went into the room where my grandson was. He’s a diabetic. He had his whole medication he had with needles and case. They took his case, threw it on the ground and stomped on his diabetic medication. I’m sitting in a chair and I’m looking at all this, having a panic attack, because I didn’t understand why this was going on. I’m already mourning my mom, and these people in my house hurting us, bring more pain, bringing me more stress.

They said ‘we’re looking for clothes’. Clothes? All four of my sons are locked up, none of them ever said I was on the scene, why do you need clothes? But I didn’t say nothing because I knew they weren’t looking for clothes. Deep in my heart, I think they were trying to plant something, because there’s no need to come in the house if you already got all four of my boys. And nobody got killed, so you don’t need clothes, that was just stupid to me, but they just came in here taking everybody’s clothes, they just messed up the whole house.

S.R.: What has the response been like for you? And how has this situation changed you?

M.R.: We’ve been back and forth in court, back and forth, we have a good support team that came along. [Name withheld] came out. He was speaking because nobody was listening to our story at first. He and our support team have been right by our side since day one. As soon as they heard about it, they’ve been here. They never left. So we’re protesting, we were giving out pamphlets, talking to the community and everything. They helped me get another lawyer, another paid lawyer. I have one, Cynthia Hardaway, she’s a beautiful person. She saw what happened to my son, she knows the type of kids they are. She called and told me she would take the case, but I have four boys. That’s just one lawyer. My support team helped raise money to pay for another lawyer to help with this case. We’ve been fighting the whole year. It’s been a whole year. We protested, we were going to rallies, and we were writing letters to the judges, making t-shirts that was [Name omitted] (chuckles). I mean everyone in our support team. Really beautiful people and I love them because they’ve been right there by my side.

We’ve been asked to speak at certain functions. I spoke at one of  P.OP’s functions. I think maybe I have spoken at two of their functions. We’ve been going back and forth to court, the support team has, we’re out there giving out flyers, talking to everybody, telling them what happened, letting them know the story, in our shirts. People start listening. The judge read the letters. And he looked at the video, and I’m thinking, thank God he took the time out to do all this, because he wanted to know why Justin was still locked up. When he became the new judge-after Judge Cronin detained him  after the bail reform – you know we don’t have bail no more. If they had, I would have bailed Justin out, of course. Third to fourth degree charges- they weren’t keeping anybody on third- or fourth-degree charges. But they kept Justin to intimidate us.

And then they came around for that whole year, harassing us. The officers that attacked my sons rolled down their windows, laughing while we sat on our porch. None of this stuff was fair. It wasn’t fair then; it wasn’t fair now. We got pictures and everything. And my support team being by my side each day, I went from crying, believing I had nobody (my mom was gone, that was my best friend. You know, nobody’s going to be by your side like a mother would be) to having a support team, and new people like brothers and sisters. And sometimes [name withheld] is a mom. And sometimes I’m her mother (laughs). And that’s what made me strong. Afrika, seeing how it is here, he stood up. That’s what made me stronger. I’m not gonna sit and let this happen.

I’m not gonna sit here and let them get away with what they did to my sons, because it’s not fair. I’ve been getting petitions signed, we’ve been talking to the community and the corrupt things that’s going on in our community. All the things we have to deal with, not just racial profiling and being attacked by undercover officers. We have to live here paying rent at two thousand dollars. I live with rats attacking us. This is all new stuff that I found out talking to the community, and it was just disgusting. So when I started talking about my son, I started talking about other people who were getting killed, because people were telling their story and you know what? It hurts-the way I take it, my son is your son, and your son is my son. So, when a person comes to me telling me their story, I feel their pain. You know, and this made me stronger, made me want to stand up and fight for what’s right. Me and my support team have been doing it ever since. And we will continue on doing it. When Justin comes home, we’re gonna continue on doing it. Because it’s not just us.

S.R.: Right, it happened to my brothers.

M.R.: That’s right, it happened to your brother, we got to keep fighting. We all have to unite. It’s just a shame that [my sons] got caught up in between whatever was on those officers mind that day. It was a shame they attacked him because he had dreads and the white shirt on.

I’ve talked to the witness just today. First thing they (the police) said was ‘Give me that bag!’ That’s the reason why the video was muted. Because not once did they say ‘I’m an officer’. ‘Give me that bag’ sounds like you’re being robbed. And that’s what it seemed like. And then you come and start grabbing people in a headlock and start attacking them. For an officer, it might be part of your job that you do, but still have another life. So, is your other life part of attacking black people? Just because you driving in a car, doesn’t mean you were on duty, the way he came out, it wasn’t like he was, because you didn’t identify yourself as officers right? I just thank God that judge see what’s going on. Because luckily, we stood up and we helped them, we wanted the judge to see the truth, they see the truth.

And I believe that the truth-everything that’s coming out- they will soon drop all the charges on my son and not just to make it look good for them. They need to be responsible for their own actions- they caused the problem- They should find the solution. They gotta fix this. Protect and serve was not what they were doing that day. They just jumped out beating up people. I don’t know who they were protecting because nobody was getting hurt out here. And honestly, they weren’t even the regular officers from this area.

S.R.: So, do you believe that targeting your son was political?

M.R.: I believe my sons were targeted. I’m so glad where we are today. I think y’all (the organizers helping the Rodwell-Spivey family) did a wonderful job. Because (the courts) threw all kind of offers on the table to me that don’t exist. If (the officers) wouldn’t have attacked them- I mean you can’t resist arrest if you’re not being put under arrest, that’s number one. If you don’t say you’re under arrest, they’re not under arrest. How do I put this? If you’re outside, minding your business, it’s hot outside, and somebody just come up to you, any human being, they don’t say nothing to you, just punch you in the face- you’re going to react like any human being. That’s not acting like an animal-it’s called a reaction to what you did. And that’s basically it; They got a reaction but didn’t like the reaction they got.

And then they want to say ‘oh they had a gun’. You can’t say they had a gun, because if they had a gun, I’d know. So when somebody says ‘gun!’ officers are quick to protect themselves, they’ll pull out their gun and say ‘Hold it right there!” But not once did you guys tase nobody, not once did you guys pull your guns and say ‘You’re under arrest’ or ‘Hold it right there’, because y’all didn’t feel threatened. Even though they see the truth, they still want to try to take something, when it’s not their fault. They shouldn’t try to take anything; they should drop all the charges and release him. They already took enough from them. They took my son life away. I can’t get no other apartments. My sons can’t get no job.

S.R.: You’ve reached out to the mayor about this?

M.R.: In the beginning, he spoke up, but that’s when he went back to the office. We didn’t hear from him again. He said nothing else about the case.

S.R.: And you’ve confronted him at rallies?

M.R.: He was around the corner one day, and my son was trying to say something. But he didn’t want to speak on the case, I don’t know what’s going on. Word got back to us that he said, ‘Let everything take its course’.

S.R.: What’s it been like for Justin? What’s it been like for his kids?

M.R.: His daughter- she misses her father. His oldest daughter who’s graduating. He missed her dance; he missed the graduation. He misses his baby girl as well; he missed her first step because she had braces on her legs- they said she would never walk. Well, she’s walking. And he missed all that, being in there. He had his baby daughter all the time, so when he got locked up, she’s crying every night because she was used to her father.

Justin’s been going through hell, people are getting killed in there and they put a mentally ill guy in the room with him, and the guy talking to himself, and Justin didn’t know what was going to happen, so he had to stay woke all night. They figure they’ll intimidate him and put him in there with this guy. That guy shouldn’t have been on that ward at all, they shouldn’t have put him with the mentally ill people. Justin was in the hole for two weeks, because they claimed he was fighting, come to find out it was his roommate fighting. Then they tried to give him a charge, talking about drugs.

They know he didn’t have any drugs on him. I really believe they was trying to intimidate him, make him tired, aggravated, and frustrated, so he’ll plead to anything. That’s what I believe what they were doing. Like I said, if we wouldn’t have been speaking out about this and recording everything, I believe one of us probably would have gotten attacked. I believe one of us would have been killed for speaking out.

My son, Jaykil was walking to the store with his daughter. They (the police) followed him to the store. When he gets out of the store, he starts recording; You hear his daughter say, ‘Daddy, they watching us record’, and he goes ‘I don’t care about that’, I fear for my life’ and then you hear her go, ‘But Daddy, you forgot my ice cream’. And that hurted; How could y’all do this while he has a little baby with him? Y’all don’t care how y’all treat black people. She’s still a kid. I don’t care if she black, white, purple, or green. Y’all shouldn’t even bothered him while he had that child with him.

S.R.: Finally, what would you like to say to the naysayers? To those who believed your sons had it coming?

M.R.: Well, I would like to say that God don’t like ugly- To say somebody had it coming, that’s basically saying that it’s good for them- Your time will come. But when your time come, they’ll start thinking ‘Oh, now this happening to me, it’s different’- no, it’s always been that way. You know black people been getting treated like dirt. Poor people been getting treated like dirt. To say a person has it coming- I don’t wish that on nobody, I don’t wish for nobody to get a year of their life taken away from them, away from their kids.

So, you gotta watch what you say, because the tables could always turn. It’s like when a person hit the picket and have a little money and think they above everybody, they look down on everybody when they was right here with us- then once the money’s all gone, they have to come back down that same ladder- The same people you spit on, you got to come back down here, now you need their help-and then the same people turn their back on you, now you know how it feel. The media will f*** up everybody’s minds I’ll tell you that.

Click here to learn how to support the Rodwell-Spivey family. You can follow their profiles on social media:  Twitter | Instagram.  Click here to donate to the family’s defense fund. If you want to personally donate to Monique Rodwell, her cash app is $MoniqueRodwell.

Read more local coverage on the Rodwell-Spivey case:

Sam Rhodes is a young Newark resident, Rutgers University student, and organizer. Sam is one of our  2022 Reporting Fellows. You can read Sam’s other piece, “A Hard Truth and Reflection on Life at Stephen Crane Village: Sam's Story,”here.

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