Reggie Jackson: Jayland Walker vs. the Highland Park Mass Shooter offers a lesson in contrasts
“Actions by the suspect caused the officers to perceive he posed a deadly threat to them. In response to this threat, officers discharged their firearms, striking the suspect.” – Akron Police Department statement on the shooting of Jayland Walker
They stood back, guns drawn, and gave the driver orders over a loudspeaker, the footage shows. “Surprisingly, he just, like, instantly complied. I think he was just, ‘This is it.’” – Ryan German, witness to the arrest of the Highland Park mass shooter (Washington Post)
On June 27 a 25-year-old Black DoorDash driver, Jayland Walker, was shot and killed by police in Akron, Ohio. Eight officers fired over 90 bullets, with at least 46 striking Walker, many of them after he’d fallen to the ground. On July 4 a 21-year-old White man, who I will not name, fired over 80 bullets from an assault rifle into a peaceful crowd celebrating the annual Independence Day parade in Highland Park, Illinois. He killed 7, and dozens more were shot or injured in the chaos following the shooting. He was peacefully arrested later without a shot being fired by police.
You’ve probably already heard more about the shooter in Highland Park than you have about Jayland Walker. As is par for the course, some media outlets have already humanized the Highland Park shooter. The Washington Post used interviews to describe him as “a troubled young man,” a “weird dude” who was “immersed in fringe internet culture.”
Images of the Highland Park shooter being arrested show him lying face down while handcuffs are placed on his wrists behind his body. By contrast, Jayland Walker, who was obviously dead, was transported to the coroner’s office with his hands handcuffed behind his back as well. Why would anyone need to handcuff a dead person?
The two incidents are becoming far too familiar to Americans. Mass shootings and police officers killing unarmed Black men have become so common that many are no longer shocked. I have heard people ask why a White man who viciously murders people watching a parade is alive while a Black man is killed after an attempted traffic stop?
I have already heard some people respond to the killing with the, “if he would have just (fill in the blank)” trope to blame Walker for his own death.
We have heard from multiple reports that the Highland Park shooter had previous contact with the police. Walker had none prior to this incident other than a traffic ticket. In 2019, the Highland Park shooter threatened to kill himself and police responded to his home again just months later when he threatened to “kill everyone.” They found a cache of weapons, including 16 knives, a dagger and a sword. Afterward, Highland Park police notified the Illinois State Police of the incident in a “clear and present danger” report.
Despite this, the police said there was “no probable cause for arrest.” As a result, he was able to legally purchase the AR-15 style assault rifle he used in the killings. Police said he dropped the weapon at the scene. They found another similar rifle in the car he was driving when he was arrested. He had driven to Madison, Wisconsin, where he contemplated another mass shooting before changing his mind.
He passed three background checks in 2019 after the two incidents as well as one on his 21st birthday in 2021, and was able to legally purchase five weapons, including the rifle used in the massacre in Highland Park.
The shooting of Jayland Walker by police in Akron has mostly disappeared from the news, which is not surprising to many in the Black community. In a nation that was supposedly awakened by the murder of George Floyd two years ago, an unarmed Black man being shot 46 times did not receive the same national response. There has been about the same amount of news coverage of the protests in Akron as there was to the shooting itself.
For those who want to question Walker’s motive in fleeing the police, he’s not around to tell us. There will be speculation, but that’s all it will ever be. The police claimed he fired “one” shot from his vehicle while being chased before jumping out of the car and running away. Shortly after this, eight officers on the scene emptied their weapons on an unarmed man. Reports from 3News Investigators in Akron who examined autopsy records say, “A large majority of the wounds were to the front of Walker’s body. Wounds could be seen from his face down to his lower legs.”
During a press conference, an attorney for the family, Bobby DiCello said:
“Our job, by doing this press conference is to remind the police department for the City of Akron that we are here for accountability. We are also here to uphold the dignity of this man. Not to vilify him. Not to turn him into someone he was never intended to be. We’re not going to let the media or the newspapers or the police define who he was. His family is here to tell you who he was. And he was a wonderful young man.”
Officers said they first attempted to use tasers to subdue Walker. I watched the video and it was not clear to me that anyone attempted to use a taser. The video shows that about ten seconds after Walker jumped out of the passenger side of the car, police commenced firing their guns. I see no evidence of the officers in the video with anything other than service weapons in their hands. Perhaps other videos will show evidence of the tasers. However, in less than ten seconds I cannot see how they went from tasers to guns.
They found a gun in Walker’s car and the police in Highland Park found a gun in the vehicle the suspect was pulled over in also.
The juxtaposition of these two events, one week apart, leave many to question how much “progress” came out of the worldwide protests after George Floyd was murdered by police in Minneapolis. Walker’s death was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner and the eight officers have been placed on paid administrative leave. Protests in Akron took place instead of celebrations of the Fourth of July.
America is still a troubled place where the life of unarmed Black people matter less than those of mass murderers like this young White man in Illinois, the young White man who killed 10 innocent Blacks at a grocery store in Buffalo just a little over a month ago and the young White man who killed parishioners at Mother Emmanuel Church in Charleston, SC in 2015.
I have grown tired of writing about these types of incidents. Nothing has really changed. We have Black Lives Matter murals all over the country, but police reforms have not really been significant.
After the protests following George Floyd’s murder, there have been increasing rates of gun violence and record numbers of murders across the country. Americans have begun to lose sight of the issue of police killings. This upward trend began during the pandemic. Police in this country still kill over 1,000 people every year. Blacks are shot and killed at a rate much higher than their percentage of the population.
The Washington Post database called Fatal Force, shows that police have killed 1,042 people in the last year. Their data going back to 2015 shows that Blacks have been killed at a rate 2.7 higher than Whites. A total of 143 unarmed Blacks have been shot and killed by police while 177 unarmed Whites have been shot and killed by police. Whites account for about 60 percent of the population and Blacks are only about 13 percent of Americans. If they had been shot and killed at the same rate as Blacks, 478 unarmed Whites would have been shot and killed by police.
Any lives lost to gun violence are horrific and far too many occur in the Black community. The tragedy of gun violence in America needs to include conversations about police killings as well. Until the nation finally deals with the disparate lives lived by Black people in a real way, we will continue to see these tragedies happening. A paradigm shift that leads to more resources, not more police, will be part of the solution that works. Police in the real world show up after murders occur, not before as is so often portrayed on television cop shows.
The recent increases in murders has not been caused by less police on the streets. Murders have increased across the country in communities small and large alike that in many ways began to cut the number of police officers way before anyone ever mentioned “defund the police.” Due to fiscal difficulties communities around the country have been cutting police officers for many years. As this was occurring there was not a subsequent increase in murders in most of these communities until the pandemic hit.
The sad story of Jayland Walker barely gets any attention now. His killing and the video of it will simply be added to a long list of snuff films that Americans seem to have no shame about.