Riots have been taking place in Akron, Ohio, following the shooting by police of Jayland Walker. The incident occurred in June, but release of police bodycam footage has sparked the riots.
The case has made international news. The London Times, for example, headlined Jayland Walker: Plea for calm after Ohio police kill unarmed black man. The other fact that has gotten much publicity is that officers–I believe there were eight who eventually chased Walker down–fired 60 or more rounds at him.
These are the videos that have been released by the Akron Police Department:
Investigators and experts on the use of force will sort out this incident, and I don’t know what the final conclusion will be. In the meantime, I have some comments and questions.
* Two facts that are repeated endlessly in the press are that Walker was black, and he was unarmed. He was unarmed because he left his gun on the seat of his car when he fled police on foot. And would the case have made national and international news if Walker had been white?
* What happened here was that police officers tried to pull Walker over for a traffic violation. Instead of pulling his car over like anyone else would do, he led the police on a long chase at high speed. The videos appear to show that along the way, he fired his gun out his window at the pursuing police vehicle. In any event, the police certainly thought he did.
* Police officers had every reason to believe that a suspect who flees a routine traffic stop and fires on officers is engaged in serious criminality, above and beyond those acts.
* Eventually Walker’s vehicle was pursued by multiple squad cars. He finally was cornered but still did not surrender. He pulled his car off the street and continued moving on a boulevard next to a park. While still moving, he exited his car on the passenger side and ran away from the officers. They had every reason to think he may have been carrying his gun, but in fact he had left it on the driver’s seat of his car.
* Multiple officers chased Walker, and one or more tried to tase him. That effort failed. It was dark and it is not easy to see what is going on in the videos; no doubt it was hard for the officers to know what was happening, too. But Walker, having ignored numerous demands that he stop and surrender to the police, turned toward them. Officers thought he posed a threat, that he would fire at them again, and they shot him.
* This case has much in common with several other recent high-profile police shootings. In Kenosha, Wisconsin, police tried to arrest Jacob Blake. He refused their orders and wrestled with one of the officers, coming out on top. He then entered his car, obviously intending to drive away rather than submit to being arrested. He wound up getting shot. In Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, police officers stopped Daunte Wright for a traffic violation. When they ran his identity through their computer, they found that he was wanted for, among other things, a gun crime. Realizing he was about to be arrested, Wright dived back into his car and tried to drive away. Officer Kim Potter attempted to tase him, but in the stress of the moment–Wright might well have been diving to get the gun he had previously been arrested for carrying illegally–she used the wrong hand and shot Wright. Potter is now in prison.
* In these and many other cases where police misconduct has been alleged, the origin of the incident was a criminal suspect’s failure to follow police orders. It seems clear that many criminals have decided that there is no need to comply with requests from officers: if it looks like you are going to be arrested, get in your car and drive away. Or keep driving at high speed, like Jayland Walker. So, what are police officers supposed to do when criminal suspects are non-compliant and manifest an intent to flee? Say “pretty please” over and over? At some point, police officers have to be able to use force, or else no one will ever be arrested.
* Why does there seem to be an epidemic of non-compliance by criminals and criminal suspects? Perhaps this is part of the general loss of respect for law enforcement that we see across our society. In most cases, I suspect, hardened criminals are making a cynical calculation that officers would rather let them go than get into trouble for using force on a black suspect. In other cases, suspects in minor cases–i.e., traffic violations–may have been brainwashed by Black Lives Matter and similar groups to believe that their lives are in danger if they are stopped by police, and safety lies in flight.
* Regardless, I think that quite a few tragic incidents would be avoided if our society united behind law enforcement and sent an undivided message that if you are stopped by police for any reason, you must follow their orders. If a mistake has been made, it can be sorted out. But police officers don’t shoot suspects who are complying with their orders. Is there a single exception to that rule? I can’t think of one. Left-wing groups like Black Lives Matter (and, to be fair, pretty much the whole Democratic Party) betray their constituencies when they encourage fear and hatred of the police.
As to this particular case, others will judge whether officers acted reasonably in thinking that Walker was still armed and represented a threat to them. But one thing is clear: none of this needed to happen, and it was primarily Walker’s fault that it did. That is a scenario that we have seen play out much too often in recent years.