Tensions remain high in Akron, Ohio, after the police killing of Jayland Walker, 25, an unarmed Black man authorities say ran away following a vehicle chase, related to an alleged taillight problem, and shot at least 60 times by eight officers.
According to statements by city officials during a press conference on July 3, body camera footage made public by Mayor Dan Horrigan and Police Chief Steven Mylett revealed disturbing video of police officers discharging at least 90 rounds of ammunition, and continuing to shoot Mr. Walker even after he lifelessly fell to the ground.
“I am urging the public to do one of the most difficult things I can ask, and that is to be patient and let the Attorney General’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation do their work,” Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan said in a press release. “It’s my commitment to be as open and transparent as we can be, given that there is an ongoing independent investigation. I trust that investigation to be fair, thorough, and just,” he said.
Police Chief Mylett added, “Utilizing an independent entity to conduct the investigation will be a further step in increasing trust and accountability with our citizens.”
But trust in the Akron Police Department, among Black and Brown people is non-existent, if not very thin, according to local community and social justice leaders. Police claim Mr. Walker fired a gunshot from his car while being pursued, conflicting with some witness accounts and observations.
“I returned back to Akron in 2007 and multiple, multiple times, Black and Brown men have been killed by the police here and it’s usually just watered down,” said Dr. Roderick C. Pounds Sr., pastor of Second Baptist Church, the oldest Black Baptist church in the city of Akron. “There have been no convictions, no trials, no charges,” he said of past incidents of police shooting and killing Black people in his city.
Saying barbarism is the first thought that came to his mind when reflecting upon the number of shots fired into Mr. Walker, and the additional shots fired into his body once he was flat on the ground, Dr. Pounds told The Final Call a long and systemic history of White police shooting and killing Black men has been a serious issue in Akron. “This is the new modern lynching that occurs under the badge and the gun,” he said.
Although police claim to have found a firearm in Mr. Walker’s vehicle, Dr. Pounds explained that after a recent change in Ohio law, it is neither illegal nor unusual to carry a weapon in the state and that carrying a firearm should not be grounds for police gunning down a citizen.
“There’s a new bill, just passed here in Ohio, less than a month (ago) and everybody can carry, you don’t need any training,” Dr. Pounds said. “I’ve been a teacher regarding (concealed weapons carrying) training for the past 10 years, and they’ve taken that away now. So they made it available for anyone to carry, conceal and so it wouldn’t be uncommon for even this decent young man, who was out Door Dashing late at night, to make sure that he had now the law-abiding privilege of having a weapon for his own protection.” The fatal shooting happened June 27 and the officers involved have not made statements, officials said.
DoorDash is a service that delivers food and drinks through drivers who don’t work for any particular eating establishment and many people take this job to earn extra money.
Judi Hill, the Akron NAACP Branch president, said she first became aware of Mr. Walker’s shooting death after reading about it online and upon receiving a media statement released by the police department. “They send out media information to certain community members and city council whenever there is an incident where a shooting has occurred, so we were added to the list as a courtesy.”
Stating she wasn’t aware of any reports of Fourth of July fireworks being used in the area of the gunshot reported by police that night, Ms. Hill said, she wanted investigators to look into that possibility as a cause of police escalating their response to a “shots fired” incident.
“I really hope that the Department of Justice or somebody looks at that video and that information more carefully,” Ms. Hill told The Final Call. “We questioned that statement (of shots fired) and if you get a chance to listen to the video, or audio of the video, you will hear the officer saying he just fired a shot. We didn’t hear it,” Ms. Hill said.
Jacob Blake Sr., the father of 29-year-old Jacob Blake Jr., who was shot several times in the back and paralyzed by a Kenosha, Wisc., police officer in 2020, told The Final Call he came to Akron to show support for Jayland’s family and to say enough is enough.
“We have a foundation called The Families United and what The Families United does is we travel around the country supporting families that have been affected by police brutality and violence,” Mr. Blake said. “Quite naturally, when we were brought to the awareness of this situation here, we knew that we had to show up. They massacred the young man. We are not animals; we are not animals!” Mr. Blake said with disgust.
Student Minister Stephen Muhammad, the Akron representative of the Nation of Islam under the leadership of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, said initial protests by outraged citizens were spontaneous. Various groups expressing multiple grievances with the Akron Police Department later organized through churches calling for protests that would prevent taking away from calls of “Justice for Jayland,” he said.
“Everyone I’ve talked to reverberated that they don’t know anyone that was shot by law enforcement, or others, this many times,” Student Minister Muhammad said. “This was just not excessive, but it was as though a message was being sent.”