They met before the wounds, before the gunshots and before their dreams of becoming professional basketball players died on the New Jersey Turnpike more than 20 years ago.
In 1998, Rayshawn Brown, Jarmaine Grant, Keshon Moore and Danny Reyes were in their early 20s, at their physical peak and full of ambition. They dreamed of going to a four-year college and playing professional basketball. A trip to North Carolina Central would be the first step in achieving their dreams.
The four men found one another in college, but they shared similar upbringings in similar neighborhoods with dreams of moving their families out of crowded apartment buildings and away from the loud streets. In the Bronx, Harlem and Queens, ambulances and police sirens wail in the background as kids run down sidewalks and gather at the park to play basketball. There were a lot of good players on those courts, but none had opportunities like these four.
Where they lived, police were known to stop teens on the street and search them. They encountered what they called “some bad cops” who would stop them or their friends on the street, but ultimately, basketball helped them stay disciplined and out of trouble.
Basketball brought purpose, opportunity and a sense of pride for their families and their neighborhood. It was their ticket to success. As they chased their dreams, the young men also learned the unspoken rules around the neighborhood, like avoiding police officers and staying away from trouble.
‘A Big Gumbo of Dreams Deferred’
“Growing up I was racially profiled, but I didn’t know what that was,” Reyes said about being stopped by a police officer as a teenager on the way to the bodega. “For the most part it felt like it was only a problem in the bad neighborhoods and they didn’t profile you on highways.”
They are now fathers, partners, entrepreneurs and brothers — bonded together when a few moments on the New Jersey Turnpike in 1998 changed the direction of their lives.
From potential movie deals to documentary productions, they are now sharing their story — a story that resonates with increased power after a year of racial reckoning in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. The memories no longer sting as much as the physical wounds of that day, some of the men said, but they resurface each time a Black life is lost at the hands of police in America.
Their story is one of survival. It’s a story that predates social media. And one that occurred before cellphone cameras gave bystanders the ability to shine a light on what happens all too often when police interact with Black men. It’s also another example of what happens when police direct special attention to drivers because of the color of their skin. The only difference between Brown, Grant, Moore and Reyes and the dozens of Black lives lost to police brutality and racial profiling is that the violence didn’t kill them on that April night.
They call themselves the Jersey Four.
Danny Reyes is charismatic and lively — the perfect mix for an entrepreneur launching a tequila company.
He’s also tall. Very, very tall.
At 6-foot-7, Reyes towers over most crowds, naturally drawing attention in a room full of people. As a business partner with Yave Tequila, he frequents parties and tequila tastings. He takes shots with friends and shares a laugh with them before heading to the next group. Reyes carries himself with the confidence and poise of a man who’s worked hard to build his wealth. He’s always self-aware, a trait Reyes developed from being raised by his strict Puerto Rican mother — a former police officer.
But under the laughter and self-assurance, Reyes carries the physical marks that serve as a reminder of the darkest episode in his life and his current success — the 6-inch scar on his right forearm is a reminder of the night he almost lost his life at the hands of police.
For Reyes, business wasn’t always on his mind. Growing up in Caguas, Puerto Rico, the young island boy dreamed of becoming a basketball player and breaking into the NBA.
At 13, Reyes had grown to 6-foot-3, making him a key player on his team in Puerto Rico. His mother, Ana-Maria Candelario, was always on the sidelines, cheering for her son and being amazed by his swiftness on the court.
“He had aspirations of being in the NBA when all of this happened,” Reyes’ mother said, speaking in Spanish.
Reyes was no stranger around police. In Puerto Rico, Reyes’ single mother worked as a police officer for nearly three decades, bringing Reyes to work whenever she had a long shift.
He would meet other officers, most of them with guns strapped on their belts like his mother’s. He remembers seeing the gun on his mother’s waistband and feeling safe. At an early age, he learned to respect the police and call on them for help.
But his mother had warned that not all officers are the same.
“She always told me that there are some bad, aggressive cops that she worked with that she didn’t approve of some of the things that they did,” Reyes recalled.
Reyes is the youngest of four siblings. When he was a kid, he moved to Staten Island, and later Spanish Harlem, where his siblings lived. He was ready to take his basketball dreams to the next level despite being on a new island where he didn’t know the language.
Reyes’ older siblings taught him English, and shortly after that he started playing league basketball in different neighborhoods. His outgoing personality and skills on the court helped him make friends throughout the city and New Jersey.
He was popular, always kept himself busy and always had something to do and somewhere to be, his mother said. Reyes was good, really good, his mother said about his basketball skills.
“By the time I was in junior high school, like seventh, eighth grade, I was probably one of the best in the whole city,” Reyes added.
Jersey Four: Danny Reyes remembers playing basketball at Curtis High School
Whether it was basketball, an after-school activity or seeing friends, Reyes kept out of trouble and remained focused on his basketball dreams. Basketball was his passion, and his coaches trained him hard, Reyes said. By the time he reached freshman year in high school, he knew he was good, and he already had college recruiters looking at him.
Reyes’ goal was to finish up his associate’s degree and transfer to a four-year university and play Division 1 basketball. With such colleges as Hartford, Marist, Hofstra, South Carolina State and Maryland-Baltimore County already offering Reyes a spot on their teams, his basketball career was headed in the right direction.
Since they lived in the same area, Reyes ran into his old friend, Moore, with whom he played tournament basketball. They talked about their favorite plays, their youth and their plans for the future.
Moore was hoping to reclaim his basketball scholarship at North Carolina Central and was planning a trip down to the school for basketball tryouts at the university. Although he already had college offers on the table, Reyes thought he could add some more offers by joining Moore on the trip.
But what Reyes didn’t know was that the same weapon his mother carried on her holster would nearly end his life — and would end his basketball career.
On April 23, 1998, Reyes found himself lying in a cold, wet ditch on the side of the turnpike after being shot six times by New Jersey state troopers.
Brown was a flyer, an acrobat and a dancer. Basketball came later in his life, but he was driven by the adrenaline and rush of live performance.
He was always active, always moving his body and always out of the house.
“My mom kept us busy, all of us,” Brown said of himself and his brother and sister. “My mom would tell us to go outside and go get active. She would say: Go get your friends and play, get out the house.”
Growing up, Brown was raised by a single mother and his siblings. He spent his days with his older brother, his sister and his cousin — an inseparable trio till this day, Brown said. Life was dangerous for a teen growing up in the Bronx during the 1980s, but he stayed away from the trouble.
Brown’s athleticism and movement were a big part of his identity during a time when school and movement were his life. His brother is three years older than he is and a former star college basketball player.
Brown’s brother taught himself to dance and tumble, which became a source of inspiration for Brown to pursue dance and basketball. Before basketball became a part of his life, Brown remembers watching his brother practice his dance and tumbling moves in parks in the Bronx until his hard work earned him a TV spot alongside famous dancer Savion Glover.
Brown was also good at dancing and tumbling, and before his junior high years, he gathered a group of friends and formed his own tumbling crew. His brother and Brown’s friends dragged dirty mattresses across empty lots in the Bronx to use as crash pads for street performances.
They called themselves the “Highflyers” one year and the “Three Amigos” the next and remained close until high school.
“When we tumbled we would get pretty high. As high as the basketball hoop,” Brown said. “But me, I loved the trampoline. Sometimes there would be five people and way on the other side a crash pad. I’d run, then jump and fly over everyone.”
Jersey Four: ‘I still hate the fact that it happened to me’
He went to a performing arts junior high school, where he was sure he would follow a dance track, but after his audition, his tumbling skills were up to par for the circus performance and drama programs.
Brown developed his performance art throughout junior high, and from fifth grade until junior year of high school, he went to the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, where he was introduced to other performing groups including the Dance Theatre of Harlem and the Big Apple Circus.
A slim kid, Brown was the flyer in his groups and neighborhood acts, jumping over his teammates during his performances. He also had his own tumbling and juggling act, but the main event was him catching air on a trampoline to jump over horses, elephants or “anything they put in his way,” Brown said. He remembers the roar of the crowds during their tumbling acts as the crowd gasped and cheered for him.
He kept up with acrobatics while studying business.
But once he turned 14, Brown started taking basketball more seriously. Aside from his brother, he had family members who played basketball at Alabama A&M, including an uncle who was a leading scorer on the team during his time.
“It wasn’t like I was really that good. It was more like I was an athletic individual,” Brown said about his basketball skills. “So I could run fast. I could jump pretty high because of my dance and my tumbling skills.”
To follow in his family’s footsteps, he would wake up at 6 a.m. to train with his brother. Their days were centered around three-hour training sessions followed by a short break to watch NBA plays and then play pickup games with friends. But much like Brown’s story, his brother’s basketball career was cut short after he was nearly murdered in the Bronx.
After what happened to his brother, Brown was tasked with carrying the basketball dream for his family. In 1996, he went to Grambling State University in Louisiana for a year, but then he transferred to Alabama A&M on a basketball scholarship. His ultimate goal was to study architecture at Clemson University in South Carolina, and basketball was his way to afford school.
But Brown had to take a semester off from Alabama A&M after the team’s assistant coach chose not to let him try out for the team. They knew each other from recreational basketball matches, and Brown’s “trash talk” on the court didn’t sit well with the assistant coach.
“So the day of the tryout, he wouldn’t let me into the building. He refused to let me in,” Brown said.
Because of his family’s ties to the university, Brown and his relatives confronted the school and the team’s basketball coach, which put Brown’s involvement with the team on hold. He lasted six months at the university before he decided to take a semester off until the situation was resolved. He ended up back in New York City working at a dry cleaner but had all the intentions of making his way back south.
Brown reconnected with his friend Moore, whom he knew from his neighborhood. They talked about their next steps for their basketball careers and where they wanted to go to college.
Both Brown and Moore were taking breaks from college, but Moore was coordinating a trip down to basketball tryouts at North Carolina Central to reclaim a basketball scholarship he had the previous year. Brown, who was hoping to make it back down south, decided to join Moore and his friends and shoot his shot at the team down south.
But his days of tumbling around the neighborhood and playing basketball ended before Brown made his way down. Today, his hand isn’t the same after a bullet hit a nerve in his biceps and another ripped through his side.
Every time Grant steps through a metal detector he sets off the alarms. He shrugs it off.
It’s been 23 years since four gunshots entered his body, but the bullet fragments in his leg and the single bullet sitting near a nerve in his right elbow are part of his life now.
He’s used to the questions, but you wouldn’t know about the bullets when you meet him.
At first, you see a tall, funny and charming Black man — one women are drawn to. He’s Reyes’ business partner, also investing in Yave Tequila, and does his own work with Harlem All Stars, coaching kids in basketball. His days are exciting, taking business calls, traveling around New York City to mentor kids and promoting tequila with Reyes and other partners.
Born and raised in Harlem, Grant would hear the late-night gunshots, the police sirens and the screaming. Grant’s father was a housing worker at the complex where he lived.
By the time he started playing basketball, his parents had split.
He was raised by his mother and the other “strong” women in his family. Those who know Grant best call him sarcastic and funny, two traits that are usually the first things he reveals about himself. He’s known as the life of the party, and he uses humor to keep the crowd at his events happy and laughing.
But he keeps a tight lid on his personal life. And he doesn’t like to dwell on the past, especially that night on the turnpike.
“If anything, I thought that me getting shot probably would happen in a neighborhood where I grew up at, where violence was everywhere,” Grant said. “Nothing could have prepared me for April 23, 1998.”
Basketball wasn’t on his radar until a trip to the principal’s office in junior high changed his life.
He was in trouble, and Principal Carol Foster was deciding whether she should call his mother. Grant was a regular in Foster’s office, but she was one of the “strong women” in his life who helped him stay on the right path.
Instead of a reprimand from Foster, Grant’s “angel in disguise” walked in the door to change his life forever.
Jersey Four: ‘Never give up and find a way to give back’
“I never was into sports. I was into just running around, playing with my friends, and never liked [basketball] because I wasn’t introduced to the game,” Grant said.
A teacher at the school at the time, Nate “Tiny” Archibald came through the door and introduced Grant to the world of basketball.
Archibald spent 14 years playing for the Cincinnati Royals, Kansas City Kings and Boston Celtics and told Grant about the opportunities basketball could bring to his life. Standing at 5-foot-10 when he was 13, Grant became inspired to pursue basketball, which led to a scholarship at Rice High School in Harlem. From then on, he spent his days shooting on the basketball courts behind his housing complex.
Known as a feisty, “full-of-energy” kid, Grant wasn’t the best at staying out of trouble. He was never arrested or handcuffed, but it was a common occurrence to get stopped and searched by police officers.
“They would just pull us over and just search us for no apparent reason,” Grant said. “It was the stop-and-frisk before we knew what a stop-and-frisk was.”
Basketball helped him get his act together and motivated him to plan for his future, he said.
He learned discipline but he still kept his humor and subtle charm as an adult. With the help of Archibald, he decided to pursue an opportunity for a college basketball scholarship.
Despite training with a Hall of Fame athlete and after leading one of two high school varsity squads in scoring, Grant was surprised when scholarship offers weren’t on the table by the time he graduated in 1993.
Instead, he enrolled at Westchester Community College, where he met his roommate and teammate Keshon Moore.
Their ambitions and love of basketball forged their friendship. Moore’s late father, Ronnie Moore, watched over the two, ensuring they wouldn’t get into trouble and would train hard. With dreams of going to college and making a name for himself, Grant wasn’t sure if he could make the basketball tryouts at North Carolina Central because of his financial situation. But his mother found extra money so he could take his shot at making a college team.
“A lot of people where I’m from didn’t have the opportunity I had, but they had the talent, they had the notoriety and some guys stayed within the block,” Grant said. “We left our environment to go and try to be abroad and see what could happen.”
Moore still gets the flashbacks and hears the gunshots that never wounded him. The most harrowing memories are the screams of his friends as the bullets pierced their bodies.
Moore was behind the wheel the day of the incident and had organized the trip to North Carolina Central University’s basketball tryouts. For the last year, he had been training, working out and getting ready to reclaim the scholarship he had lost at the school.
The year before, he was at the university on a basketball scholarship but wasn’t able to take enough credits and keep his scholarship. Since he couldn’t play on the team, he went back to New York and had a couple of months to plan his return to school for the second semester.
“I was a student athlete,” Moore said. “I had to get back into my routine. I got a job, started taking classes, started getting my credits up, started working, and I had my friends as well, who were home, and they were trying to go to school, too.”
Like the rest of the men, Moore was a natural athlete drawn to discipline and dreaming of his future. Once he was back home, Moore reconnected with his friends, including Grant, whom he had known since he graduated from high school.
The two were roommates and formerly basketball teammates at Westchester Community College. Grant had visited North Carolina Central and was interested in Moore’s plan to reclaim his scholarship — he was hoping he would get one, too.
For months, Moore trained with Grant, who had agreed to travel down south for the basketball tryout at the university. One day while visiting his former girlfriend, Moore reconnected with Brown, who was home after being away at Alabama A&M.
Moore told him about his plan to show recruiters his skills at North Carolina Central in hopes of regaining his full-ride scholarship to play basketball. He was excited, and Moore wanted to help his friends, who shared his dreams of going to college.
The Jersey Four: The Trip
“I was in the best shape of my life. I had matured mentally, physically, so I knew I was coming back,” Moore said about going back to North Carolina Central. “I had set a goal. I felt good. I felt happy.”
Moore took turns training with friends, one day playing pickup games with Grant and another day with Brown.
A few weeks before they were supposed to leave, Moore ran into Reyes, a former friend with whom he had played high school basketball. He knew Reyes had a reputation for being a star player in city tournament leagues, and Moore thought he might benefit from a basketball tryout at North Carolina Central University with other recruiters who might notice Reyes.
“I got Danny’s number and I called Danny to let him know about the trip, and that’s basically how it came together,” Moore said.
Growing up, Moore traveled the world and didn’t live in New York until he was 13. His father was a military man and would take his family to different countries and states because of where he was stationed.
Living on a military base was a “melting pot,” Moore said. Unlike the rest of the men, he never encountered random searches by police officers, sounds of gunshots late at night or police harassment. The term “racial profiling” wasn’t in his vocabulary — until the incident.
“Everyone knows each other, so it’s a close-knit type of community,” Moore said about living on military bases.
Once his family settled in New York, his mother started working as a corrections officer at Rikers Island. Being around the military and law enforcement all his life turned Moore into a disciplined, rational and determined adult, qualities that served him well in his work as an EMT and dialysis nurse as an adult. He met new people all the time and had a way of seeing things in a different light.
He was also focused. When he set his mind to do something, he did it. In college, his dream was to become a basketball player, and he worked hard to make his plan work.
For the trip down to North Carolina Central to reclaim what he lost, he asked his former girlfriend’s mother to help him rent a van. Moore picked up the vehicle, met up with Brown and Reyes and drove through Harlem to pick up Grant before they made their way back to Queens to pick up Reyes’ bags he left at his sister’s house.
The four men in their early 20s set out on a trip down south to change the course of their lives. For Moore it was about redemption, and for Grant it was about opportunity. Reyes was going to expand his long list of college offers, and for Brown, it was about getting one step closer to Clemson University.
They never made it out of Jersey.
On April 23,1998, it was Moore who brought them all together. His scars, though not physical, may be the most burdensome.
They all remember the rain.
It was around 9: 30 p.m. when Moore headed south on the turnpike toward North Carolina.
They were excited and they were happy. They chatted about sports, life and music. The bonds between the men likely would have grown naturally, through shared experiences on the court and off.
Instead, their relationship was forged by gunshots fired from weapons held by police.
Reyes was in the passenger seat of the silver Dodge Caravan. Brown had fallen asleep in the middle row, his arm draped over the seat. LL Cool J played in the background as Grant fell asleep in the third row. Moore — always aware of his surroundings — noticed a police cruiser in the left lane. Reyes saw it, too.
“Keshon was going right at the speed limit, because my instinct was just to see how fast he was driving as soon as I saw [the police car] just like ride next to us,” said Reyes, who looked at the van’s speedometer. “And he was right at the speed limit.”
State Troopers John Hogan and James Kenna were driving in the left lane and peering at Moore before they slowed down and crossed over to the middle lane, behind the minivan. They flashed their red and blue patrol lights, and Moore slowed to a stop.
“I didn’t look at them, but I felt eyes on me, and I thought: whatever, I’m not speeding or anything,” Moore said. “I’m not thinking anything.”
As he leaned over to get his license and registration, the van rolled slowly backward, bumping the front bumper of the police car. Moore, nervous because of the situation, hadn’t realized he mistakenly had put the van in reverse instead of park.
Then the bullets started flying.
The passenger-side window shattered, sending fragments of glass throughout the vehicle and hitting each of the men. Moore said he could hear the bullets piercing Reyes’ body next to him. He also heard a voice that told him to duck his head moments before two bullets ripped through his headrest.
Brown crouched down with his hands over his head, his elbow to his knees as shattered glass continued to fly. Grant woke up screaming, with a sharp pain in his leg. There was a hole in his left knee and blood was gushing onto his hands.
“I said, we’re going to die, and I don’t even know why,” Grant said.
Jersey Four: Keshon Moore hears a voice that saves his life
Reyes held up his hands as one of the state troopers pointed a gun at his face through the broken window. In the midst of the screams and yelling, Brown said, he heard a gunshot — they shot Reyes. Four more gunshots rang out. Moore thought they had killed Reyes. He continued to keep his head down.
In a matter of seconds, Reyes managed to put the van in neutral, sending it into traffic on the highway, where it was rear-ended by a Honda Civic and pushed into a ditch. Reyes lost consciousness but remembered being dragged out of the van and handcuffed by the two state troopers.
“Can you please switch the arm? Why you handcuff the arm you shot?” Reyes said to the troopers. “And all he kept saying to me was, ‘Shut up, shut up, shut the fuck up.’ ”
It took several paramedics to get the three wounded athletes on stretchers, out of the ditch, up the hill and into the ambulance. Reyes was in critical condition and was airlifted to Cooper Hospital in Camden, along with Grant. Grant remembers blurting out his mother’s phone number before losing consciousness.
“I was screaming like a bitch,” Grant said. “I didn’t do anything wrong, I don’t know what happened.”
The troopers handcuffed a bloodied Brown, after a bullet hit him in his biceps and the other on his right side. When the paramedics arrived to help him, they noticed that his biceps was swelling up and were afraid it would explode, Brown said. They pleaded with the troopers to uncuff him as Brown was being told he was under arrest.
“I said, under arrest for what?” Brown said. “You guys shot me. you guys shot us. We didn’t do anything.”
“And he said, ‘That’s what you all say.’ ”
Moore, who somehow escaped being shot, was the last one left on the scene. He remembers the ambulances and dozens of paramedics and police officers in the area. He remembers the helicopters that took Reyes and Grant to the hospital.
“I’m just laying there on the ground, watching the whole thing in handcuffs, and, you know, I can’t believe this,” Moore said.
A police officer asked if he wanted to go to the hospital or jail. Moore chose to go to the hospital and was taken to Helene Fuld Medical Center in Trenton, where Brown was being treated.
He sat in a hospital bed with a state trooper who told him they were going to charge him with the attempted murder of state troopers, Moore recalled. After doctors cleared him, Moore remembers the big, tall police officer who took off his handcuffs, escorted him to the police car and had him sit in the front seat of the car.
The Jersey Four and their unique perspective on racial profiling
It was 2 a.m. when Moore sat in a quiet car ride on the way to the New Jersey state trooper barracks. When he arrived, dozens of detectives and police officers were waiting for him.
“He opens the door and there were like 400 cops, detectives and suits and stuff,” Moore said. “Everybody just stops in complete silence as I walked in.”
They interrogated Moore for 10 hours, asking him if he or his friends were carrying drugs or weapons. But Moore wanted to know how his friends were doing.
“They were telling me throughout the interrogation because I kept asking,” said Moore, who wanted updates on his friends’ conditions. “They said, your friend is being operated on.”
Moore was allowed one phone call. He called his parents. He was charged with speeding and driving with a suspended license before he was offered lunch and driven back home to New York, where his former girlfriend, now the mother of his daughter, was waiting for him.
“I had a lot of thoughts in my head at the time,” Moore said.
Reyes was shot six times, Grant three and Brown two. Unlike other Black men who had violent interactions with police, they lived. But as the years have passed, they have realized just how much of themselves died on the New Jersey Turnpike.
Moore left that night unscathed — but he never pursued basketball again. The emotional wounds turned his world grim as he dealt with the guilt, anger and frustration of that day. For the first time in his life, Moore found himself lacking the motivation to get on the court.
“They were incredible athletes,” Moore said of his friends. “Their bodies would never be the same again, and I knew that, and then me, not being shot, it hurt. That made me angry. I was dealing with things.”
It’s been 23 years, and the men, now in their 40s, are different people. They overcame the anger and have mostly recovered from their physical wounds. But finding emotional closure — especially with Black men still being killed by police at rates that far exceed all others — is an ongoing process.
It may never end.
Jersey Four: Rev. Al Sharpton discusses impact of case on perceptions of racial profiling
The men have never talked to the state troopers who altered their lives forever or those who debriefed them on April 23, 1998, as a group. As activists, such as Al Sharpton, rallied for justice for the Jersey Four, press conferences and media circuits became their norm.
After the incident, Reyes, Grant, Brown and Moore sued the state and received a $12.9 million settlement in February 2001 after hiring Johnnie Cochran to file the suit in April 1999. The state of New Jersey didn’t accept — or deny — any guilt.
The two state troopers were indicted on charges of attempted murder and aggravated assault, but the charges were eventually dropped. John Hogan and James Kenna were both forced to resign after pleading guilty to lying to investigators and falsifying documents to hide the fact that they had stopped four men of color because of their race, according to stories published at the time by The New York Times.
Reyes spent a week in the ICU after the shooting. He was forced to decline a slew of basketball offers after two bullets shattered the bones in his right arm and two others entered his hip. One bullet entered and exited his body and another remains in his stomach to this day.
Grant was shot three times. The bullets hit his left knee, a rib and his back, shattering bones in the process.
Brown was shot twice in his right arm, causing him to lose mobility in his right hand and forcing him to stay home for six months. Anger and confusion lingered during those months.
He couldn’t move the way he used to, and depression set in. Brown went to psychotherapy for two years. One day, as his mother accompanied him to a session, Brown remembers feeling the desire to kill an officer he saw standing on a corner. He imagined what would happen if he took the gun out of the officer’s holster and shot him.
“I’m walking toward him, [my mom] reached out and put her hand on my shoulder and stopped me and turned me around,” Brown said about that moment. “I just looked her in the eyes and said, ‘I’m about to take his gun,’ and she just gave me a hug.”
Reyes never sought psychotherapy. His recovery was fueled by his ambitions to play basketball again and move past the nightmare. During his physical recovery, his mother was bedside making sure he followed a plant-based diet, a recommendation made by a nutritionist the family knew.
Doctors said he would never move his arms again, but Reyes knew that wasn’t true. He never showed his emotions to his friends and appeared calm and hopeful, his mother said.
“Through [physical] therapy I just kept pushing. At the time I was writing, and I believe the writing and putting everything down that happened in my life on paper has helped me,” Reyes said. “It’s almost like self-therapy. So I’ve been good, a very strong individual.”
Grant and Reyes went to physical therapy together, both confident that their bodies would go back to what they used to be. As athletes, both had previously undergone fractures and minor injuries, and the healing process was something they were used to.
“I’m looking at my knee because I know how much work I put into the jumping aspect of my game,” Grant said. “Immaturely thinking I’m like: I can come back from this, I think.”
But their bodies never fully recovered. And they never made it to a professional basketball league.
Instead, they sought out guest speaking appearances, held basketball clinics throughout Harlem, Queens and New York City, and found ways to share their story. They also joined Sharpton in marches against police brutality and rallied for justice for other victims.
Over the years, their activism slowed as they focused on building their own lives. Individually, the Jersey Four invested in businesses. They bought houses and cars. They took time to travel.
Grant became a physical therapist as well as Reyes’ business partner. Brown opened his own recording studio and is now a personal trainer in Montclair, New Jersey, after he gained 85% movement in his right arm. Reyes launched his own production company, Red Eye Films, and invested in a tequila company. Moore became a dialysis nurse and opened up a liquor store in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic.
And as their lives evolved, they found other ways to benefit those in need. Now, the Jersey Four run their own nonprofit, Pass 2 Assist, to help young kids in the community.
Despite more than 20 years and all that comes with developing successful, prosperous lives, the Jersey Four still say they lack one thing — something they have in common with so many other victims of police violence — justice.
“I didn’t like the fact that we didn’t get to present our case to a jury. I felt disrespected,” Brown said. “Since we took the settlement, it was more like: That’s it, they have money, they can be happy now.”
After the 1998 incident received nationwide attention, the Jersey Four shared their story, and they had this to say about that day on the turnpike: State troopers had tried to kill them because of the color of their skin.
In many ways, although police brutality against people of color has existed for centuries, the shooting of the Jersey Four brought the then-routine police practice of racial profiling into the spotlight.
The gravity of what occurred — and, more importantly, why it occurred — was immediately recognized by the four men.
“I was asleep. And I had to understand that we are in a racist world and racism does exist and it was placed on me,” Brown said. “Something that I never expected to happen, but it happened.”
Two decades later, the Jersey Four bond remains. But like any relationship, it has its ups and downs, ebbing and flowing according to the money and opportunities that came their way.
For Moore, the financial gains of their lawsuit got in the way of what the Jersey Four could have been. He said the Jersey Four haven’t done enough to pay it forward.
“The monetary gains were great,” Moore said. “It’s the people who chose how to use them and how to use that to their advantage.”
Today, there’s an unspoken tension.
It’s been 23 years since that day on the turnpike, and the four men have never talked about what happened to them. They spoke about their experiences at press conferences and speaking engagements, but never as a brotherhood.
Still, despite the tension, the arguments and what remains unspoken, the Jersey Four bond is forged for life. They are living their lives with the same values that drove them to take a trip down to North Carolina: a shot at a better future.
The Jersey Four still get nervous when stopped by police. And every time a life is lost at the hands of police, they are reminded of that night on the turnpike in 1998.
They call themselves survivors.
Follow reporter Jessie Gómez on Twitter: @jessiereport