AKRON, Ohio — Hundreds came to the Civic Theatre here July 13 to pay their respects to Jayland Walker. A DoorDash driver with no criminal record, Walker, 25, died June 27 when eight police officers fired dozens of shots at him as he jumped from his car after a police chase. A medical examiner reported June 15 at least 46 bullets hit him from head to toe.
The cops say that Walker fired from his car as he fled a traffic stop. They claim that as he was running away, wearing a ski mask, he turned toward them and reached for his waist. But that is not clear in any of the police bodycam videos released so far. Shots continued hitting Walker after he fell. No one claims he was actually carrying a gun. After the shooting, cops handcuffed him behind his back as he bled to death.
Police say that cops in a neighboring town chased Walker’s car the night before, but didn’t stop him.
Daily protests, most peaceful, have taken place here since Walker’s killing. But some ended in broken windows and damage to small businesses. Several protesters were arrested. A curfew imposed by the mayor was lifted July 17.
One of the shops damaged was DaVinci’s Pizza. “I understand that it’s horrible what happened, and I’m right there with them. There should be protests,” new owner Wyatt Baer told the Akron Beacon-Journal. “But I don’t know why they had to bust in my windows.”
Walker’s family has called for continuing protests, insisting that they be nonviolent. The day before the funeral they organized a “Unity Gathering” at Remedy Church.
Walker’s cousin, Rodray Walker Jr., set the tone, telling the packed church, “We are asking that you continue to unite in a nonviolent manner to raise awareness for injustice in police brutality that continues to happen in the African American communities.”
In the wake of widespread condemnation of the killing, Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan declared the day of the funeral a day of mourning. Walker’s family invited the public to view Walker’s open casket and attend the funeral.
The atmosphere was tense. Those entering had to go through metal detectors and bag searches. Several members of the Fred Hampton Gun Club provocatively carried assault rifles and patrolled outside the theater, claiming they were there to “provide security.”
Family members and local clergy spoke at the dignified funeral the next day. “We must not normalize this,” said Bishop Timothy Clarke, pastor of the First Church of God in Columbus. “We must not try to act that this is all right. This is not all right,” he said. “Jayland should not be in that box.”
A month before Walker was killed, tragedy struck his life when his fiancée, Jaymeisha Beasley, was killed in a hit-and-run accident. At the funeral his cousin, Robin Elerick, described the grief Walker had been experiencing.
Family attorney Bobby DiCello told the press that Walker’s actions during both police pursuits was “odd behavior relative to who he was as a person. He was obviously dealing with something because he never acted like that before and his record proved that.”
“They stopped this boy for a traffic violation, and it turned into a brutal murder,” Kim Evans, 67, a retired cook, told the Militant outside the funeral. “I hate the fact that I have to tell my sons and grandsons to tiptoe around the police. We need unity, and to stop the police from killing Black men. And to stop Black men from killing other Black men.” A 40-year-old man and a 4-year-old girl were shot at a party here July 8, part of a broader crisis of anti-social killings in Black communities nationwide.
“The police need to be charged, not slapped on the wrist,” Brittany Wells, 31, a welder, told the Militant at the funeral. Wells was raised by Walker’s aunt.
“Prosecute the police who gunned down Jayland Walker,” Samir Hazboun, Socialist Workers Party candidate for U.S. Senate from Ohio, said July 13. “We need unions, churches and community organizations to join the family in organizing disciplined, peaceful protests demanding they face charges.” Hazboun’s supporters joined a long line of cars and motorcycles following the hearse carrying Walker’s body to the cemetery through African American neighborhoods. People along the route raised their fists in solidarity.
That afternoon SWP members talked with working people in northeast Akron. One man said the police shooting was justified because Walker fled the cops and fired a gun. Others disagreed. “I’m upset about it. I don’t think eight cops should have fired on him,” said Shelley Soto, 19, a nursing home worker.