Jayland Walker’s mama blew a kiss as he left her house. Hours later, police killed him with 46 bullets
His mother, sister and cousin discussed his life in their first extended interview since his death at the hands of Akron police.
AKRON, Ohio — Pamela Walker carries the weight of agony.
It’s a feeling that attacks at any time. It comes when she tries to sleep, when she’s awake, and when she finds the strength to eat just a little bit. It’s especially brutal when she sees anything that reminds her of her son, Jayland.
While she can remember everything that made Jayland special, the events of June 27 can block those memories. That’s the day eight Akron police officers fired 90 bullets and hit her son 46 times, then handcuffed his lifeless body as it lay prone near a historic neighborhood not far from a church.
“I would never want anybody,” she said in a near whisper, her head bowed, “to go through what I’m going through.”
Walker, her daughter, Jada, and a cousin, Pastor Robert DeJournett, sat down in a conference room at Akron’s St. Ashworth Temple Church of God in Christ for the first extended interview since Jayland’s death at the hands of Akron police. (Pamela and Jada Walker have each made shorter appearances on network television news shows). The family spoke to theGrio for nearly 90 minutes about Jayland, his short life and how they’re coping.
His sister says she’ll carry a piece of her brother wherever she goes. “I miss him so much,” she said as she used a tissue to dab her eyes. “I can’t hardly say his name without getting upset,” Jada Walker said, her voice breaking. “He was my only brother.”
Pamela Walker described her days as “awful,” and you could see it on her face, at times blank, at times drawn, at times with her eyes tightly closed.
Could there be anything that, over time, might be able to help her?
“Bringing back my son,” Pamela Walker said quietly, “It’s the only thing that can help me.”
Nothing makes sense
“One thing he would say: ‘I just like being to myself’”Pamela Walker
Jayland Walker, a quiet, reserved young man, enjoyed spending time with his family and fiancée. He was independent, a characteristic he carried with him from a young age. He enjoyed listening to podcasts and reading about business, investing and entrepreneurship. He liked professional wrestling and watching comedy shows with his sister.
He was a picky eater who loved smoothies, vegetables, fruit and water, believing that “health is wealth,” and would spur longevity.
He helped his neighbors when they needed it, held steady jobs, and dreamed of working for himself.
He had no police record and had never been in trouble anywhere. He had one traffic ticket in his life.
That’s why nothing about the circumstances on June 27 makes sense to his family, especially when you understand the contours of his life.
Jayland Walker was born July 20, 1996, in what was then known as Akron City Hospital. The joy of his birth followed the heartbreak of loss. Pamela Walker was supposed to have twins but suffered the miscarriage of one of them about five-and-a-half months into her pregnancy.
“It was horrific,” she said.
Eight months into her term, she gave birth to Jayland, who still weighed a robust 5 pounds, 15 ounces. “He was a good size for a preemie, but he was sick,” Pamela Walker said.
Since he was premature, his lungs and intestines hadn’t fully formed, he took medications for gastric reflux and needed special baby formula. But by the time he was about a year old, Jayland not only had grown out of his illness but had started showing the personality traits he would exhibit later in life.
“It was beautiful. He didn’t cry. He was just pleasant. He was a good baby,” Pamela Walker said. “The only thing he wanted me to do was to be next to him.”
He had an affinity for his burp towel, so his mother kept it nearby at all times, and he often rested his head on it. He would sleep through the night, curled up next to her, comforted by her presence. He also started talking at a very young age and would curiously ask “us that?” for “what’s that?” and “wan’ go,” for “I want to go,” meaning he didn’t want to be still. He needed to move.
Jayland and his older sister, Jada, both loved Barney, the purple dinosaur, as kids. The Walkers had a house full of Barney stuff, from videos to sheets to toys and all of Barney’s friends (remember Baby Bop, BJ, and Riff?).
“Barney, Barney, Barney, all day long,” Pamela Walker said. “Barney was cute though. I just got tired of Barney.” Remembering and retelling a cheerful story from her son’s childhood brought a slight smile to her face and a small chuckle, a rarity nowadays.
His school years were remarkably unremarkable. Pamela Walker said she never received a call from a teacher about behavior problems. He was a good child who made friends. He struggled a little in school when he was young, and his mother thinks that may have been related to his premature birth. (Researchers have long made a connection between preemies and potential learning issues).
He attended middle school at North Akron Catholic, where he played football and basketball and joined the wrestling team. He loved wrestling and later made the squad at what was then Akron’s John R. Buchtel High School.
One of his cousins, at his funeral, said Jayland was thinking about becoming a semi-pro wrestler under the name “String Bean,” an apt description for a 6-foot-2 man who weighed less than 160 pounds.
Through high school, Jayland’s independent and quiet streak continued. He rode his bike at least 30 minutes each way — sometimes at night — to his job at a Dollar Tree store. He never asked anyone for a ride, even though his bicycle tires were so worn that he often had to stop to put air in them.
He and Jada would assist their dad as he helped people in the neighborhood haul and move various items in an old pickup truck. If someone needed help, Edward “Pete” Walker and his children were there. “It became ‘Sanford and Son’ real quick,” Jada Walker, 28, said, with another of those rare smiles.
Pamela Walker said her son didn’t have a high school girlfriend, at least that she knew of. That would fit since he tended to be secretive, his mother said. But that all changed at his high school graduation, in 2015, when he introduced the family to Jaymeisha Beasley, whom he had met during summer school. Over time, they grew to be inseparable.
The steady drumbeat of life continued after high school. Jayland would watch WWE wrestling and his favorite wrestler, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. He liked comedy, especially Bernie Mac and anything Dave Chappelle, and would watch shows and specials on television with his sister.
And when he laughed, he laughed big.
He also started walking in his father’s shoes. His father died suddenly from a stroke in 2018 at the age of 57, a devastating development that affected the extended Walker family. Edward Walker was the family comedian who did anything to help his neighbors. He was also the one who made sure family met family and stayed in touch. He was the glue that kept everyone together.
“That’s one thing I always admired about my father,” Jada Walker said. “He made it a priority that we knew who all of our family was, even if we weren’t that close to them. He was really big on that. A lot of people took [his death] hard.”
Pamela Walker slowly said, “We were all devastated.”
After his father’s death, Jayland took the old pickup truck and started helping neighbors who needed it. That was part of his strong, quiet and determined work ethic. He didn’t expect accolades or thanks. He just did.
He lived at home until 2020, then leased an apartment, figuring it was time. Shortly afterward, Jaymeisha moved in with him.
They had a mutual love of basketball and took the 40-mile drive from Akron to Cleveland to see the NBA’s Cavaliers. Jayland even took a little good-natured ribbing when he wore his Kobe Bryant Los Angeles Lakers jersey his sister purchased for him for his 25th birthday. Jayland and Jaymeisha traveled to New York, Florida and California, and in the words of Pamela Walker, “They did everything together.”
“It’s just too depressing to talk about.”Pamela Walker
In March 2021, Jayland called his mother and inconspicuously asked, “What are you doing?” Then he added, “I just got engaged.”
Pamela Walker was taken aback. “I kind of whispered, ‘I thought we were going to talk about that first.’” But she said congratulations and started tearing up.
They didn’t immediately set a date, but at that time, why rush? Jaymeisha was 27. Jayland was approaching his 25th birthday. They were both helping Jayland figure out his next step in life. After years of working for other people, he decided he wanted to work for himself.
Jayland, who also worked for Amazon for a time, told his sister that he didn’t want to be anyone’s employee, so he started working for DoorDash, where he could make his own hours.
That was about six months ago, about February 2022.
Life for Jaymeisha and Jayland moved along nicely, a young woman with a large, radiant smile and a man who fancied himself as String Bean, each consumed with the love each felt for the other.
Until May 28.
Just after 1 a.m., Jaymeisha was riding in a 2003 Ford E-150 van traveling south on Interstate 71 near Lebanon, Ohio, roughly three hours southeast of Akron. A semi-truck hit the rear of the van, ejecting one of its occupants, according to the Ohio Highway Patrol report.
The woman lay on the dark road — the report notes there were no lights illuminating the roadway — and was hit by a passing car that didn’t stop.
Jaymeisha Beasley was dead.
“It’s too depressing to talk about,” Pamela Walker said.
DeJournett, the pastor and cousin, didn’t speak to Jayland Walker between the time of the accident and his death, but he did speak to other family members. “Of course, he was sad, but he was working his way through it, from what I heard. Anybody would be shaken up,” to lose someone who was so close.
Jayland went to family birthday parties, visited his mother and kept going to work. In other words, he kept up his routine.
“No one from Jayland Walker’s family noticed any unusual behavior,” according to the family attorney, Bobby DiCello. DiCello had told reporters that Jayland had acted “bizarre” the last two days of his life. But a spokesperson from his office told theGrio that by “bizarre,” he meant running from police.
On June 26, Jayland Walker stopped by his mother’s house after he finished helping his grandmother put some furniture on her porch. Pamela Walker didn’t sense anything out of the ordinary. He came in, hugged his sister and talked. Jada thought he would stay a little longer because he hadn’t been around recently. But he said he had to leave, so Jada and her mother did what they normally do.
Jada hugged her brother, said I love you and ‘be easy,” their way of saying take care.
Then, Jayland’s mother walked him to the door.
“I always would walk to the door to watch him leave,” Pamela Walker said. She stopped for a few seconds, closed her eyes, and pursed her lips as her voice cracked. Jada, sitting to her mother’s right, gently rubbed her shoulder.
“I always stand there while he gets in the car, watch him start it up. I’d watch him drive off, and I’d give him the peace sign,” kissing her fingers inward and then turning them outward turned her son. “And I would watch him until I couldn’t.”
Jayland drove away that afternoon.
Hours later, Akron police called Pamela Walker and asked if they could come to her house. They wanted to talk to her — they wouldn’t say why — but said it would be best to meet in person.
Two detectives knocked on the door and told her Jayland was dead. Pamela Walker screamed. She said she doesn’t remember much else. The day remains a blank, a blur.
These are the events leading to Jayland’s death, according to Akron Police Department reports.
On June 27, about 12:30 a.m., police attempted to initiate a traffic stop, but they said Jayland kept going, and police began a pursuit that lasted about six minutes. During the chase, police say “a sound consistent with a gunshot can be heard” from the fleeing vehicle.
The chase continued before Jayland slowed the car and got out while it was still moving. He was wearing a ski mask, and exited the passenger-side door and ran. Police pursued him and say he turned toward officers and made a movement toward his waist area.
After chasing Jayland for about 10 seconds, police fired a volley of shots that lasted, on the video, about six seconds.
Jayland Walker crumbled to the ground and bodycam footage shows police continuing to fire as he lay on the pavement. Police told WEWS-TV they handcuffed Walker afterward because they didn’t know if he posed a threat.
He was pronounced dead at the scene. Police said Walker was unarmed when he was shot but said they found at least three items in his car — a handgun, a loaded magazine and Jayland’s engagement band, a precious item the family has yet to get back from the police.
Eight officers had eventually joined the chase, and they fired a total of 90 shots at Jayland Walker, who sustained 46 gunshot wounds. The autopsy report, completed June 28 with a summary released to the media on July 14, said doctors recovered 26 projectiles from his body.
The medical examiner ruled Walker’s death a homicide, making clear that’s a medical, not a legal ruling. The Akron Police Department, per department procedure, placed the eight officers on paid administrative leave pending investigations by Akron police and the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
DeJournett, in addition to his role as a pastor, serves on a number of local boards and has received several awards, including community leadership honors from several organizations. He understands Akron well and the issues the city faces as it tries to make sense of the senseless.
“The biggest struggle is those last six seconds,” he said. “Because no matter what happened up until then, those last six seconds was excessive deadly force. They were shooting even when he was on the ground, really unloading on him.”
“Coming over to say what?”Pamela Walker
Jayland Walker’s death immediately made national news. So far, in 2022, a Washington Post database shows, police killed 649 people across the country. The database indicates 59 Black people among the dead, but that number could be higher since the Post listed the race of 444 victims as “unknown.”
Peaceful protests demanded Justice for Jayland, and behind the scenes, business and community leaders began to meet to plot the long road to healing. A large statue, donated by people from Minneapolis, depicts a large, clenched fist and sits outside of the St. Ashworth Temple.
And then there’s the ugliness. The family and police have received death threats. Akron police, on July 11, reported it received a warning from the FBI that violent extremists posing as residents might try to perpetuate violence during demonstrations.
DiCello said he will talk to the city and police at the appropriate time.
Pamela Walker has no personal interest in that conversation.
“They didn’t care about shooting him down like a dog, so why would they care about me?” she asked, as a hint of anger flashed across her face.
But she does want answers.
“Why would they chase him for something as minor as a traffic infraction? What is the need to chase someone? They pull up your license plate and they see if you have a history with the police. And if they don’t, why can’t you send the person a ticket instead of going through all of that? And then they’re saying they’re chasing somebody down for public safety? Well, it’s not really public safety to me if you’re chasing them. That’s not safety. He’s only had a speeding ticket, that’s his only history with the police department, is a speeding ticket. My God. I would hate if you never paid your parking tickets, what they do to you. Unbelievable.”
She also wants to know why it took eight police officers to chase and kill her son.
If you didn’t know where to look, it would be difficult to see any evidence that Jayland Walker died near East Wilbeth Road in Akron.
A “Black Lives Matters” sign, yellow roses, a photo of Jayland Walker and ribbons adorn one telephone pole. A yellow sign taped to another pole just a few feet away reads “Justice for Jaylon Walker,” and contains a hand-drawn face with tears streaming from the left eye.
Otherwise, there isn’t much. Cars drive by. A parking lot has few cars. And the few vestiges that mark Walker’s shooting inconspicuously sit attached to a wooden post.
The Walker family made clear that Jayland’s existence shouldn’t be relegated to mementos on a pole. He was a quiet, smart, introspective man with dreams extinguished in a hail of bullets.
Each tear his mother cries marks another second she won’t have her son.
During the interview, Pamela Walker engaged in a discussion about childhood trinkets, like those kindergarten art drawings children make for their parents. Kids bring home all sorts of stuff and expect parents to pack them in a box and keep them forever.
Someone mentioned their children won’t let them get rid of the squiggly lines on red construction paper, or the broken elephant ceramic with the trunk knocked off or the homemade cards filled with hearts and expressions of love.
Pamela Walker, confronting her own unimaginable, searing, heart-wrenching grief, said three words that make all the sense in the world, given her agony.
“You better not.”
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