Jayland Walker’s Funeral Takes Place Amid Calls for DOJ Probe

The police killing of Jayland Walker on June 27 in Akron, Ohio led to large-scale protests in the city—and in Washington, D.C. Black 25 year-old man died from more than 60 gunshot injuries. He was also unarmed at the time. Some of the officers present at the scene that Walker’s death has been captured on body cam video. This raises more questions than answers. But activists argue that state and municipal officials’ promises of investigating the shooting do not suffice.

Walker was honor at the Wednesday funeral service. It was a local TV station and was attended by many people from the 189,000-person city. Walker’s family and friends shared heartfelt remembrances, recalling how he was never shy about expressing his love. “There were a lot of ‘I love you’s’ back and forth,” said his cousin, Robin Elerick. He was passionate about basketball, underground music and wrestling. “It just sucks because I used to call Jayland almost all the time and I can’t call him anymore when I’m going through some things. So this is pretty hard for me, standing up here,” Dupri Whatley, his best friend, said through tears. “But he’s going to live through me. I’m never going to forget him.”

At the memorial service, Bishop Timothy Clarke, of the First Church of God in Columbus said the community was right to be outraged over Walker’s death. “This is not alright. This is wrong. We should not be here and Jayland should not be in that box,” Timothy said.

The events that led to Walker’s killing began when an officer tried to pull him over for a vehicle violation and a traffic violation and he fled. The situation escalated after the officer reported that a shot was fired from Walker’s car. Walker fled, being chased by numerous officers. Eight officers began shooting, firing more than 90 times, according to his family’s attorney. Walker was unarmed and officers had to handcuff him after they shot him. Police said they later found a handgun on the front seat of Walker’s car. Local police said that they believed the use of force was justifiable.

Akron police are conducting an internal investigation and Ohio’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation is leading a probe into Walker’s death and any potential misconduct by law enforcement.

The Rev. Ray Greene Jr., executive director of the Freedom BLOC in Akron, says Walker’s death sparked such a response in part because of Akron police’s repeated targeting of the Black community. “Why are we training officers to ‘eliminate the threat’ of a citizen of the city that they live in? This isn’t a war; you don’t eliminate the threat,” Greene says. While there have been some reforms over the past two decades, to Greene they represent “incremental ways to keep people satisfied, keep people shut up.”

An audience arrives at Akron Civic Center, Akron, Ohio to offer their condolences.

Gene J. Puskar–AP

D. Brian Burghart, a journalist, and University of Southern California researchers compiled a list of 35 Akron deaths that have occurred since 2000. The figure also includes shootings by police officers.

The local NAACP chapter, as well as a group of local lawmakers—the Black Elected Officials of Summit County—have called for the Department of Justice to launch a federal investigation. “What I’d like to see happen is that, first of all, any equipment violations should never lead to the death of anyone. That’s number one,” said Judi Hill, president of NAACP Akron, according to the Akron Beacon Journal. “You go to Cleveland, you go anywhere, they take a picture of your license plates, and they send you a frickin’ ticket. Send me the ticket.” President Joe Biden said July 6 that the Justice Department is closely monitoring the case, but so far the DOJ has not acted.

Greene is asking Congress to approve the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. This would increase accountability for police use and shootings. The legislation would have created a national registry of police misconduct cases, added required training for racial profiling and implicit bias—and made it easier to federally convict law enforcement officer for misconduct. Although it passed the U.S. House of Representatives last year, the Senate did not support the legislation. “We don’t want incremental change,” he says. “We need revolutionary change today.”

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