“Two years ago, the country reacted in disbelief and horror to the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. His murder raised troubling questions about policing in America and the use of deadly force. Did racial bias play a role in his agonizing death? Was training a factor? How could there be such disregard for a human life?
Those same questions are now being asked again after the death of another Black man who police shot more than 60 times after what was supposed to be a routine traffic stop.
Jayland Walker, 25, was killed by police in Akron, Ohio, on June 27 in an incident that sparked days of protests, prompting authorities to impose a curfew and cancel Independence Day celebrations. Police said they had tried to pull Mr. Walker over for unspecified equipment and traffic violations at 12:30 a.m. when he fled and a chase ensued. About 40 seconds after the chase started, police said, a gunshot was fired from Mr. Walker’s car. After several minutes, according to police, Mr. Walker, who had no criminal record, got out of his car and ran away. Police said they deployed Tasers but couldn’t subdue him. Seconds later, after police say Mr. Walker stopped and turned toward the officers, they opened fire.
More than 90 rounds were discharged, and it appears from the police body camvideos of the chase and shooting that shots were fired even after Mr. Walker fell to the ground. “It was absolutely excessive,” said the attorney for Mr. Walker’s family. “The way the law required, indeed, the way we are all required, to look at this is through the eyes of a reasonable police officer as it’s happening. I ask you, as he’s running away, what is reasonable? To gun him down? No, that’s not reasonable.”
Mr. Walker was unarmed when he was shot. Police said they found a handgun in the car, but it’s not clear whether it was loaded. Eight officers directly involved in the shooting have been placed on administrative leave; the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation is conducting an inquiry and will turn the case over for review to the state attorney general.
There are many unanswered questions that will determine whether these officers should be criminally prosecuted. Foremost: Was a gun discharged during the chase that gives credence to officers’ claims they feared for their lives? While the delay in the release of information has been troubling, it is important not to prejudge the outcome of this case. There must be a thorough investigation and a full airing of the findings. Aside from the specific issue of possible criminal culpability, there should be some renewed soul searching by law enforcement authorities — both in Akron and across the nation — about practices that have resulted in unarmed Black suspects being killed by police more often than Whites.
We hoped that after Floyd’s death, departments would reassess the use of deadly force, improve training and question the wisdom of tactics like giving chase to drivers with broken headlights. That this young man is dead after being stopped for a traffic violation is not only a needless tragedy, but it is just plain wrong.“