His Name Was Jayland Walker
In the aftermath of another police killing, a grieving community seeks justice
Written and created by Riley Roliff
Young Black man. Traffic stop. Death by police. This was the familiar story that the country woke up to on the morning of Monday, June 27. This time, the city was Akron, Ohio. This time, his name was Jayland Walker. This time, over 90 bullets were fired, half of which found their target.
The wake of Walker’s killing saw the coming together of various grassroots organizations in Akron. They quickly set up protests and drafted a list of demands for the city. The demands include: a call for the establishment of an independent commission to investigate the killing of Walker and others by the Akron Police Department, the abolition of traffic stops, and more. They also demand the release of the names of the officers who shot Walker, as well as their immediate firing and prosecution. In addition, the demands address the aggressive police response to the largely peaceful protests that followed the killing.
“Everywhere there’s a protest where there’s police presence, the police show up more like they are occupying a warzone,” explained Ben Gifford, a member of the Akron chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. “They are quick to escalate to violence …They’re heavily armed. They’re heavily armored. They deploy tear gas, which is a chemical weapon.”
On July 4, community members marched with copies of the new demands to the mayor's house. According to Gifford, the plan was to either hand their demands to the mayor or leave them on his lawn if he would not come to the door. At the house, the marchers were met with 20 to 30 heavily armed police officers along with two armored vehicles. “It was clearly a sign to intimidate,” said Gifford. “A completely inappropriate response to a community that is grieving and is sick of being brutalized and killed.”
“They’re definitely keeping a stronghold on information,” said Howl Loudley from the grassroots activist organization Serve the People Akron, referring to the lack of transparency coming from the Akron Police Department. “Our organization and others have put in information requests to the department and have been given dismissals on small details.” A recent editorial from the Akron Beacon Journal contained similar complaints. The editorial board stated that the Akron Police Department spent weeks fighting the Journal’s requests for body camera footage showing the arrests of protestors on July 6. The department argued that the footage was confidential due to ongoing investigations, despite the fact that they had previously released body camera footage of incidents which were under investigation.
Gifford sees hope in the way the communities have responded to the protests. “When we march through communities … you hear a lot of support,” he said. “When we marched to the mayor’s house, we picked up a ton of people along the way, in cars, or walking down the street with their own signs, or even just people standing out on their sidewalks … showing signs of support, cheering us on, clapping, and things like that.”