Rufus Council was born in North Carolina and moved to Newark a number of years before the rebellion that broke out in July of 1967. According to those familiar with him in Newark, Council was “a neighborhood drifter who did odd jobs to survive” and was working for a moving company in the city that summer. Council’s wife and two children remained in North Carolina, and “he just came back and forth between [Newark] and there for years.”
On Friday July 14th, Rufus Council was standing with Rose Wright outside of Roz’s Restaurant, near the corner of Broome and Mercer Streets, where a crowd had gathered around 5:00 P.M. to watch police firing upon the Scudder Homes project a few blocks away. It was at this time that Newark police detective Frederick Toto was fatally shot outside of the Scudder Homes project after law enforcement exchanged fire with alleged “snipers” in the apartments. Toto’s shooting occurred shortly after police had opened fire on innocent people gathered in front of the project, killing Isaac Harrison and Robert Lee Martin. It remains uncertain if Detective Toto was struck by fire from someone inside the project, or by erratic shooting from National Guardsmen or State Police.
According to journalist Ron Porambo, as Council and Wright stood near the corner, “suddenly sirens wailed—announcing the Toto shooting—and police cars raced down Broome Street, some officers shooting into the air.” As an unmarked police car came speeding down the block, Council and Wright made their way back to the perceived safety of Roz’s Restaurant.
Wright testified, “As the car approached, I was able to make out three state troopers inside, two in the front sear and one in the back. The one in the back seat was leaning out the left back window (on my side) and pointing his long gun at people as his car passed by.”
At this point, Wright was inside the restaurant and Rufus Council stood in the doorway looking out onto the street. Wright continued, “I heard several shots which sounded as though they were coming from the car that had just driven up… Suddenly Rufus shouted ‘Ow!’ and he fell right in the doorway, backwards… After he fell he never moved. Neither did he say another sound. A few seconds after Rufus fell, I heard the motor of the car roar up, they were gunning the motor, then the car drove away.”
According to a witness interviewed by Porambo, “Council put his hands up and shook his head, telling the police not to shoot. A .38 caliber bullet struck him in the head and he dropped in front of he restaurant as the police sped off like gangsters.”
Rufus Council was dead at the age of 35 after having been shot in the head by police, in what was essentially a drive-by shooting. As the police sped off, according to Wright, “…Rufus was laying on his back and blood…had formed a big clot in the area of his left temple. Rufus was dead.”
The Essex County Grand Jury found “no cause for indictment” of the officers involved.
Ronald Porambo, No Cause for Indictment: An Autopsy of Newark
Witness Testimony of Rose Wright before the Essex County Grand Jury
Notes on statements of witnesses to the fatal shooting of Rufus Council collected by Newark Legal Services Project. — Credit: Junius Williams Collection
Deposition of Rose Wright, in which she describes watching Rufus Council get shot in the head by State Troopers while standing in the doorway of Roz’s Steak House on South Orange Avenue. — Credit: Newark Public Library
Explore The Archives
Handwritten notes of Newark Legal Services Project regarding witnesses to the fatal shooting of Rufus Council on July 14, 1967. — Credit: Junius Williams Collection
Grand Jury report describing the fatal shooting of 35-year-old Rufus Council on July 14, 1967, who was shot in the head when police driving on South Orange “fired his pistol into the crowd which resulted in the death of Rufus Council.” The Grand Jury found “no cause for indictment.” — Credit: Newark Public Library