On June 27, a minor traffic stop resulted in the death of a black man.
Jayland Walker, 25, was pulled over by police in Akron, Ohio for an unspecified traffic and equipment violation. He fired, and police later said Walker opened fire as he drove away from the officers. During a chase of about 3 minutes, he abandoned his car, which was still running.
Eight police officers fired an estimated 90 shots at Walker after attempting to electrocute him. A gun was found inside his car, but he was shot from the vehicle as he fled, and no weapons were found on him when police arrived and handcuffed him. Walker was pronounced dead at the scene a short time later.
Police released body camera footage of the shooting nearly a week later, on July 3, and widespread protests forced the cancellation of the city’s July 4 weekend events.
Friday morning, the Summit County Medical Examiner issued a Post-mortem report Concluding that Walker was shot or grazed 46 times by Akron police.
Walker is the only one approx 600 people were killed Since 2017 After being stopped by police for a simple violation. Earlier this year, a Grand Rapids, Michigan police officer was charged with second-degree murder in the death of Patrick Leoya, a 26-year-old black man and Congolese refugee. The officer initiated a traffic stop for an unregistered license plate and after a brief struggle shot him in the back of the head.
Use of deadly force on an unarmed person A fugitive is unconstitutional. In 1985, the Supreme Court ruled in Tennessee v. Garner that police officers could not use deadly force in these situations unless the police had probable cause that the danger was apparent. But that warning allows police wide wiggle room to claim they faced a threat, and Akron police are sure to cite shots allegedly fired from Walker’s car, even though he was later found unarmed.
“Police discretion is so wide that they can justify their actions many times one way or another,” said Milnet Craig, a criminal justice professor at Sam Houston State University in Texas. “As long as we have things like bodycam footage and bystander video recordings to piece together — their discretion works in their favor in a lot of these cases.”
And the act of fleeing itself is, in some states, a crime. This is the case in Ohio, where Walker was killed. Experts say this not only triggers some police defenses to use deadly force, but it elevates common escape crimes into high-risk situations where a lot can go wrong.
“There is precedent in the law [that] There’s a misalignment with reality,” said Nikki Jones, a professor of African American studies at the University of California, Berkeley.
“The law does not provide protection [for Walker]it provides protection for the officers who use force,” Jones said. “And the officers had the perception that Jayland Walker was a threat, but that doesn’t take the perspective that Jayland Walker saw them as a threat.”
In Michigan, where Leoya was killed, fleeing and eluding police is a Class H felony, punishable by up to two years in prison.
Talisa Carter, an assistant professor at American University in the Department of Justice, Law and Criminology, said, “When laws classify a behavior as a crime, there is reason to think that the enforcement of those laws will be intensified.” “When the laws on certain crimes are relaxed, the way police respond to those acts is also relaxed.”
The legal definition of when police can use deadly force is important, but the mentality of many cops to flee suspects is dangerous even in crime-free states. In Maryland, fleeing the police is a misdemeanor, but in February, Baltimore police shot and killed Donnell Rochester, a black teenager, because he was fleeing a traffic stop while driving. While the department said it has body camera footage of the car driving towards the officer and hitting him Rochester was shown driving and never hitting an officer. Early police accounts also gave conflicting stories about what really happened surrounding the fatal incident in Rochester, leaving room for doubt.
Some cities, such as Washington, DC, have instituted “no-chase” policies that prohibit most police car chases. The policy, which came out of the Commission on Corrections after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, cited the incident of Caron Hilton-Brown, a black man riding a scooter while being chased by D.C. police, who died when he crashed. the driver Geoffrey Price He died in May 2018 after being hit by a DC police car while riding his dirt bike. The family filed a lawsuit alleging that the police involved in the pursuit deliberately obstructed her – leading to her death.
Chicago also established it No chasing on foot policy in June. The change comes after the high-profile shooting of 13-year-old Adam Toledo by a Chicago police officer in 2021.
While Ohio law remains strict, there are small steps to change how police pursue fleeing people.
In 2019, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine (R) requested The Ohio Collaborative Community-Police Advisory Board has created new law enforcement standards for vehicle searches. The Police Advisory Board was developed in 2016 while DeWine was serving as the state’s attorney general.
The advisory board was tasked with issuing guidelines to local departments and recommending policies police should consider when developing their own standards for vehicle searches.
“Regardless of which agency is responsible for responding to traffic stops, it’s important that everyone involved at the end of the interaction be our goal.”
– TaLisa Carter, an assistant professor at American University
Some of the recommendations included stopping vehicle searches to ensure the safety of police officers and spectators.
“This law that exists in Ohio can be used to say, they acted within the scope given to me by the legislature, where they are not going to be disciplined,” Craig told HuffPost. “If you pass a law that gives a lot of power in terms of decision-making and you pass shields that an officer might face against some time of disciplinary action or criminal proceedings, it seems like they can get away with doing whatever they want.”
In December, Ohio lawmakers were also pushing legislation To ban police officers Completely from pulling over drivers for minor violations.
Carter, who agreed that officers should not be part of the stop and should exercise good judgment in vehicles and on foot, stressed that a minor infraction stop should not result in a death in any case. “Whatever agency is responsible for responding to traffic stops, it’s important that our goal is to be alive at the end of the interaction for everyone involved,” Carter said.
Police experts are still looking for ways to prevent deadly chases and fatal traffic stops. One way, according to Rutgers University transportation scholar Kelsey Ralph, is traffic cameras.
Traffic stops are the most common interaction between police and citizens, Ralph said. And a policeman doesn’t have to be involved every time someone has a minor violation with their vehicle.
“It’s uneven policing and there’s a lot of traffic stops for very minor and non-safety issues. It’s not going to add any human, personal interaction. It’s just going to be cameras,” Ralph told HuffPost. “Police are very selective about who they pull over. There’s a tendency to pull over minority communities more heavily, so it’s no surprise that the same laws don’t have the same impact on affluent white communities as they do on black and brown communities.”
Criminal justice advocacy groups have proposed other ways to remove police from traffic stops.
In 2021, the Vera Institute of Justice Report issued Where the group says “non-police first responders” should be specifically tasked with handling minor traffic violations and stops.
“Cities could replace police with unarmed, civilian traffic response units, housed in city departments of transportation or public works and staffed by experts in transportation and mediation,” the report said.
Last year, in Berkeley, California, City officials voted To pass a recommendation to police officers not to focus on traffic stops for low-level offenses such as not wearing seat belts or not having expired tags. The suggestions came in one “Reform Package” That was passed after the city cited disproportionate stops of black and brown people in the area.
Experts like Carter say these policies will have far-reaching implications for people living in those cities.
“[A traffic stop] People who are policed don’t feel good, and that has the potential to escalate,” Carter said. “We don’t want people to live in fear that something as small as what we saw could get them killed.”
Walker’s funeral was held on Wednesday. City officials did not come. The eight officers who shot Walker have been placed on administrative leave.