Jayland Walker’s June 27 shooting death at the hands of Akron police has rattled the Northeastern Ohio city as the community is demanding answers and accountability.
The 25-year-old delivery driver was killed following an alleged “traffic and equipment violation” and subsequent on-foot chase that resulted in eight police officers allegedly firing nearly 90 shots, striking him 60 times.
Just days later, the Akron Police Department released officer body camera footage showing Walker disperse from the vehicle he was driving and run through a park where he was shot and killed as he approached a parking lot. Additionally, police and city officials claim cameras also captured “a muzzle flash” from Walker’s car, however it’s difficult to see it in any of the footage provided to the public. A handgun and loaded magazine were reportedly found in Walker’s car after the shooting, but it was not on his person during the on-foot chase.
Days of protest in downtown Akron have now turned to weeks as demonstrators are demanding more details about what happened to Jayland Walker and how law enforcement plans to re-instill trust in the community. So far, according to Akron NAACP President Judi Hill, her organization and the wider citizenry have not received answers on how the officers involved are being investigated, and instead, have faced hostility from the Akron PD.
“I do want people to understand: there was no violence, there was no destruction until the police department breached that agreement and they tear gassed people,” Hill told BET.com, referring to reports that Akron police used force against protesters mid last week. “That changed the narrative. That’s when people broke windows, that’s when they set dump trucks on fire, that’s when people started losing faith.”
Additionally, Hill says that contrary to some news reports of destruction in downtown Akron, protesters and activists were not the ones creating property damage.
“There was disruption in several parts of the city after the [full body camera footage] hit, but there was no destruction,” Hill adds. “It was people expressing their concern and anger in the streets, in churches, in parking lots, but there was no destruction, and I really want to stress that. They’re not respecting protesters, they’re not allowing them to protest peacefully and so it’s heightened the frustration and fears of everybody.”
Since protests broke out, a curfew for the downtown Akron area has been imposed, lifted and reimposed. The arrests of as many as 49 protesters reportedly took place during the demonstrations.
Rev. Raymond Greene, an activist and Executive Director of The Freedom BLOC, an Akron-based organization that focuses on empowering Black people through protest and voter turnout, says he witnessed violence by law enforcement during last week’s protests and says his fellow demonstrators were targets.
“They have tear gassed us, they have beat us, they have ran tanks through the city, followed us with helicopters and everything, and it’s just another strong-arm tactic by law enforcement to continue to intimidate us and dehumanize us,” Greene told BET.com, noting he himself was almost hit by a police armored vehicle.
In early July, after the body-camera footage was released to the public, the city’s Fraternal Order of Police, which provides representation for officers in Akron, stated that the actions of the eight officers who shot and killed Walker were justified, partially because he failed to “obey a lawful order to stop.”
In-part, the FOP said they “believe the independent investigation will justify the officer’s actions including the number of shots fired” and that “the decision to deploy lethal force as well as the number of shots fired is consistent with the use of force protocols and officers’ training.”
That assertion, considering Walker, who did not have a police record, was unarmed, running away from, and then shot 60 times by officers, is shocking to many nationwide, including Analilia Mejia. Co-Director for The Center for Popular Democracy and former Deputy Director of the Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau for the Biden Administration, Mejia says that there is no justification for Walker’s death.
“These police officers and any police officers, anyone involved in the criminal justice system, any American that can excuse what happened to Jayland Walker is swimming in the deep messages in our nation that deny Black people their full humanity and their full citizenship,” she told BET.com.
Mejia adds: “We have this deep history, not only of racism, but anti-Blackness in this nation that allows people to excuse their inhumanity and inhumane treatment of Black people. Because of that reality and the failure to actually confront it, it allows for it to perpetuate the feeling of we’re less than human.”
The FOP’s statement comes despite the officers’ full official accounts regarding the shooting being provided to the Akron FOP, as the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigations is still looking into what happened. WEWS reports that police chief Stephen Mylett said it was his understanding that those interviews are now underway.
“It’s almost like so you’ve held your investigation, and yet, the Department of Justice, the State said it’s going to take time, but you’ve already said [the shooting was justified],” Hill notes regarding the FOP’s July 3 statement and police response to Walker’s killing. “They had not interviewed the officers, however their union can come out and say that they were justified. Does that make sense? You’re telling us that your whole process is screwed.”
The Akron NAACP say they began holding rallies the day news of Walker’s death made headlines. The organization was also present during the press conference held by Akron PD and Walker’s family when the deceased’s mother, Pamela Walker, found out how her son was killed.
“For me, more than the video, I hear [Pamela] screaming in the background at that press conference because she didn’t know how many times he was shot. For me, I can’t get that out of my mind,” Hill said. “I have taken the word ‘peace’ out of my narrative. I am no longer asking for peace until the police department can do what they are paid to do, and that’s to protect as well as serve.”
In 2016, the City of Akron published the findings of a blue ribbon task force that, among other things, made suggestions to hire more women and officers of color into Akron’s police department, have more civilian involvement in reviewing police procedures, and “an independent Police Auditor [who] reports to the Mayor and evaluates all complaints of use of force.”
Then-Mayor-Elect Daniel Horrigan expressed his gratitude to members of the task force for “accepting this important assignment.”
“The City of Akron finds itself at a critical time in its history,” Horrigan stated in the report’s literature. “A time filled with challenges as well as remarkable opportunities for growth. It's time to write the next chapter in Akron's incredible story.”
Hill says that the task force, made up of several experts in finance, human resource management, neighborhood development, and more, as well as the suggestions made, have been completely ignored by the city’s law enforcement brass and the mayor. Additionally, she notes she was part of a 2021 racial equity task force that evaluated Akron’s criminal justice and policing systems in hopes of building “public trust in the community by formulating meaningful recommendations of policy change.” That effort, Hill adds, has also not seen any of its suggestions be implemented into policy or practice.
“That thing is on a desk somewhere collecting dust. I am ashamed to say that I worked on something, and we put a lot of hours into something that has not created change in our city,” she said. “They made it very clear that our suggestions were suggestions but we thought they would take them seriously and not waste valuable life and time of the individuals who took it very seriously.”
Greene’s organization is necessitating some bold steps for the Akron Police Department to take in order to instill a layer of trust between them and the community.
“We’re calling for immediate unpaid leave for all officers, immediate resignation or termination of our [Deputy Mayor for Public Safety] Charles Brown, the immediate suspension of all police chases in the community, immediate suspension of all traffic stops by armed militia, and the community to get educated, trained, registered to vote that allows us to elect a new mayor and city council,” Greene states.
On Monday night, community members rallied outside City Hall just hours after the funeral plans for Walker were announced. Hill told reporters that protests should cease until after Walker’s funeral at Akron’s Civic Theater on Wednesday. Nevertheless, Hill says that moving forward, it’s up to the Akron community to help spark a substantive transformation in policing, regardless if city officials and law enforcement want to be involved.
“I think in our collective voices and our collective actions, we can help create change,” she added in speaking with BET.com. “If the police department isn’t willing to do it with us then we have to learn to do it in other ways. We need to figure out via their system of legality, of laws, of changing the charters, whatever we need to do we need to do that now so that we can change it to try to save some of this poor little city we call Akron, Ohio.”
A GoFundMe account was set up to help cover Jayland Walker’s funeral costs. So far, it’s raised over $5,000.