How many bullets did Akron police shoot at Jayland Walker and why? | Opinion


Illustration by Alex Cochran, Deseret News

How many bullets does it take to subdue someone? How many bullets does it take to kill someone? 

This is not a rhetorical question nor is it meant to provoke statistical calculations from sharpshooters.

The questions are asked to understand why Akron, Ohio, police officers felt compelled to fire approximately 90 shots as they pursued 25-year-old Jayland Walker. The coroner disclosed that Walker’s body had more than 60 bullet wounds.

Excessive force, brutality and inhumanity comes in many forms. It can come in a chokehold as Eric Garner experienced while he repeatedly gasped “I can’t breathe” before he died. It can come as a knee to the neck as George Floyd cried out for his mother before he died. It can come in a hailstorm of bullets after being stopped for a traffic ticket in Ohio.

Today, one of the scariest experiences of an African American of any age or status is to look in the rearview mirror and see a police car behind them. Knowing the history of police violence against us, when we see police officers following us, the immediate emotion is anxiety, followed by fear. Some who know our long history with the police are aware that we need to be polite, follow instructions and record the interaction when stopped because we don’t know if that stop will end in a citation or death. Younger African Americans know the recent egregious, in-plain-sight behavior of some officers.

Perhaps because of all this, with hearts jumping and adrenaline pumping, the first reaction to being stopped by police might be to flee.     

As he fled on foot, Walker was unarmed and was not wearing protective gear. The eight police officers who pursued the young man on foot were armed with guns, bullets and tasers. They were also wearing protective gear. This extreme imbalance begs the question: Why did it take eight police officers and 90 shots to detain one person? 

By all researched accounts on Akron’s website, Mayor Dan Horrigan has been consistently saying and doing what’s necessary to strike a balance between enforcing the law and developing positive community relationships. In 2017, he said, “We are dedicated to continually improving relationships between our police officers and the neighborhoods we serve.”

The mayor has said that Akron has a commitment to “bias-free policing with a primary concern for protecting and preserving human life, and to hiring a diverse workforce that reflects the communities were serve.” He vowed to “strive to exceed all applicable standards” and to remain accountable to the community.

But Jayland Walker died anyway.

Police officers have a very dangerous job. They assume a tremendous amount of risk each day they put on a uniform. In some anti-police/defund-the-police communities, officers don’t know when a traffic stop or a domestic violence call is going to erupt into retaliation.

Still, inasmuch as police officers have a tough job with precarious risks, there is no math, logic, rationale, algorithm or justification to support why officers would, in their professional capacity, unload 60 bullets in a human body.

The answer may lie in what happened before the police employment application, before admission into the academy, before assignment to a district and before pursuing Jayland Walker. Perhaps it was a sense of bias and/or a lack of respect for humanity. These attributes in the context of leadership training are not addressed on the websites of Akron’s police department or the police academy.

Simply showing dash or bodycam videos of the shootings of Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Botham Jean, Philando Castille, LaQuan McDonald or Sandra Bland, to name a few, may have increased the sensitivity of the eight officers and perhaps at least one of them would have exercised restraint, but that apparently didn’t happen. What also did not happen was respect for humanity. Animals are peacefully euthanized, but it took 90 rounds, 60 wounds and eight officers to kill Jayland Walker.

Something went very wrong in the pursuit of Jayland Walker. May justice be served. May we all learn to respect police officers and humanity. May God bless us with a greater sense of humanity, restraint and love for one another.

The Rev. Theresa A. Dear is a national board member of the NAACP and a Deseret News contributor.