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Akron activist: People need 'permission and space to be angry' over police killing of Jayland Walker

Protesters march and block traffic Monday, April 17, 2023, on Vernon Odom Blvd. after a grand jury decision not to charge eight Akron, Ohio police officers in the death of Jayland Walker last summer. (Phil Long/AP)
Protesters march and block traffic Monday, April 17, 2023, on Vernon Odom Blvd. after a grand jury decision not to charge eight Akron, Ohio police officers in the death of Jayland Walker last summer. (Phil Long/AP)

Hear this interview on our podcast, Here & Now Anytime.

Residents in Akron, Ohio, are planning to march for justice Tuesday. This comes after a special grand jury came back Tuesday with no charges for eight police officers who shot and killed a young Black man last summer named Jayland Walker.

Here & Now‘s Deepa Fernandes learns more about how the community is processing this news with Rev. Raymond Greene Jr., the leader of a local community group called Freedom BLOC, or the Black Led Organizing Collaborative.

Interview transcript

Deepa Fernandes: Today, residents in Akron, Ohio, are marching for justice. The eight police officers who shot and killed a Black man named Jayland Walker last summer will not face criminal charges. A grand jury declined to indict them Monday. Police say Walker was fleeing an attempted traffic stop and they claim they believed Walker was a threat because he turned towards officers and motioned towards his waistband. Walker did have a gun in his car and officers say he fired a shot from the vehicle, but he was unarmed when he was shot. Officers fired 94 shots. 46 bullets pierced Walker’s body, killing him. The shooting sparked outrage across the country. And now that the grand jury has found officers were legally justified in using lethal force, even more emotion is bubbling to the surface. Let’s hear reaction from the leader of a local group called Freedom BLOC, or the Black-Led Organizing Collaborative. Reverend Raymond Greene Jr. has lived in Akron most of his life. Reverend, welcome and thank you for joining us.

Rev. Raymond Greene Jr.: Hello. How are you?

Fernandes: I’m okay. You know, first tell us how you and your community is feeling today.

Greene Jr.: Oh, man. We feel like we’re in the Twilight Zone. There’s there’s nothing that you can tell me to justify someone being shot at a hundred times and not one person being held responsible. It is showing us what Black life not only means in Akron, Ohio, not only means in the state of Ohio, but what Black life means in this country. We are grieving, but in our grief we are strategizing on how to make Akron a whole place for everybody. That is our focus.

Fernandes: You know, people must look to you, Reverend, for guidance at times like this. What are you telling people who, as you’re saying, are grieving and must be angry?

Greene Jr.: Yes. I’m doing everything I can to give them permission and space to be angry. We have been conditioned through this capitalistic world to hide our anger. But the Bible teaches us there is nothing wrong with righteous indignation. And if you have any other feeling right now other than angry after watching a Black man get shot too close to 100 times with 46 bullets landing in his body, there is no other emotion that a person can have right now other than anger. And now it’s about, you know, fueling… uing that anger to fuel the right conversations about the country that we live in. Having the right conversations about a police state, a police country that protects the very, very rich and everyone else is able to be gunned down by state-sanctioned law enforcement with no repercussions. So our anger is fueling in our conversations and understanding of this country that we live in and the solutions and strategies that we need to change it.

Fernandes: And what are the plans for the days ahead? How are you encouraging people to express that?

Greene Jr.: In any way they choose. But we’re going to march throughout the city today. We’re going to march throughout this county until these eight officers are fired. We’re going to march throughout the state until qualified immunity is ended, until pattern or practice investigations are not only happening in the Akron police department, but to police departments throughout the state of Ohio and Black communities across the country. People are going to feel uncomfortable until Black men are able to feel comfortable in this country. It is my mission to make people feel uncomfortable until Black men are able to feel comfortable in this country.

Fernandes: Reverend Green, why do you think that this decision came back the way it did?

Greene Jr.: This decision came back because the police have a license to kill. When you have Black people who are not human to law enforcement and you have the weight of the state, the weight of the law behind you, this is how these things not only happen, but continue to happen.

Fernandes: What needs to change?

Greene Jr.: Civility. We need civility in our country, which means that everyone is able to eat, everyone is able to have a roof over their head. When you have haves and have nots, then you have law enforcement. Without law enforcement, these things don’t happen. You only need law enforcement for one reason: to protect the haves from the have nots. So we have to take a hard look at capitalism and begin to provide living wages, begin to provide affordable housing, that allows us to eliminate law enforcement and allows the community to be a community to take care of themselves. And that’s what needs to happen.

Fernandes: What is the message you want to leave people with, Reverend, as they’re getting ready to go out and protest today to call for justice for Jayland Walker?

Greene Jr.: Be safe. Speak loud. And never stop until we get justice.

Fernandes: Reverend Raymond Greene Junior is the executive director of the nonprofit Freedom BLOC, and that stands for Black-Led Organizing Collaborative in Akron, Ohio. Reverend, thank you.

Greene Jr.: Thank you.

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