AKRON, Ohio (AP) — Hundreds of people gathered at a theater in Akron, Ohio, on Wednesday to commemorate the life of Jayland Walker, a 25-year-old Black man killed in a hail of police gunfire last month.
Walker was remembered by family and friends as a shy, kind, thoughtful man with a quiet sense of humor. There were also calls from those who spoke at the funeral about the need for justice for Walker and other Black men and women killed by police.
“We thank you God that Jayland’s life has touched so many people around the world," said Pastor Robert DeJournett of Akron's St. Ashworth Temple Church of God in Christ “I’m believing that this is gonna be the last time that we have to do this. But God, we’re going to continue to push and push and push until a change is gonna come.”
Mourners, some wearing “Black Lives Matter” and “Zero Threat, Zero Violence, Justice for Jayland” T-shirts passed by Walker's casket before the funeral.
“When I think about Jayland, I think about someone who had the biggest heart,” said Robin Elerick, a cousin of Walker's who spoke at the service. “He was so sweet and so authentically genuine, and that's what I'll always remember about him.”
Walker's best friend, through tears, recalled how they were like brothers and listened to music together including one of Walker's favorite rappers, Jadakiss.
“I don't want anybody to try to make it seem like my best friend was a bad dude,” said Dupri Whatley. "Because he was not. If it wasn't for him, I probably wouldn't be where I'm at now."
Bishop Timothy Clarke, of the First Church of God in Columbus, preached about how Walker's death, and the deaths of other men and women, cannot be normalized.
“We must not try to act as if this is all right,” Clarke said. “This is not all right. There's nothing right about this. We should not be here, and Jayland should not be in that box.”
An attorney for Walker's family, Bobby DiCello, said during a news conference following the funeral that the United Nations Expert Mechanism to Advance Racial Justice and Equality Law Enforcement has committed to examine Walker's death.
DiCello said Akron and its police department need to make policy changes such as installing dashboard cameras in police cruisers. He insisted that Akron city officials need to publicly apologize to Walker's family.
“We’re going to hold them accountable for every single bullet they fired in this case,” DiCello said,
Walker was killed June 27 at the end of a vehicle and foot chase that followed an attempted traffic stop. He wasn't armed when he was shot, but authorities said Walker had fired a shot from his car 40 seconds into the vehicle chase. Police body camera footage released by the city on July 3 shows Walker wearing a ski mask, jumping out the front passenger door of his still-moving car and then running into a parking lot.
That blurry footage does not clearly show what authorities say was a threatening gesture before he was shot by eight officers, seven of whom are white and one who is Black.
Investigators haven’t confirmed how many rounds were fired or how many times he was shot. The Summit County medical examiner's office said it found more than 60 wounds on Walker's body but hasn't said how many were entrance and exit wounds.
Akron police released a photo that showed an unloaded handgun, an ammunition clip and what appeared to be a wedding ring on the driver's seat of Walker's car.
Less than 24 hours before the Akron pursuit, an officer in nearby New Franklin Township had tried to stop a car believed to be Walker's for the same equipment violations that led to the Akron chase. A police supervisor called off the pursuit when the driver crossed the township border into Akron.
Akron has seen daily protests city officials released body camera footage from the eight officers on July 3. Downtown Akron is under a curfew from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m.
Akron police asked the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation to handle the investigation into the shooting. BCI's findings will be turned over to the Summit County prosecutor's office to present evidence to a grand jury to determine if any officers will be charged criminally.