WASHINGTON (Dispatches) -- Protesters have rallied in a North Carolina city as a United States judge granted the release of police body-camera footage showing the aftermath of the killing of Jason Walker, an unarmed Black man who was shot by an off-duty police officer.
Relatives of Walker and residents of Fayetteville gathered in the city on Thursday to demand justice in Saturday’s killing, chanting slogans such as “Jason Walker matters”.
Civil rights lawyer Benjamin Crump, who has represented the families of other unarmed Black people killed by police in recent years, including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, promised to get to the bottom of the killing.
“The truth will be revealed for Jason Walker,” said Crump, who organized the rally.
The circumstances surrounding Walker’s killing remain unclear.
Jeffrey Hash, the off-duty police officer who shot Walker, was driving his vehicle with his wife and daughter when they approached Walker, an unarmed 37-year-old Black man crossing the street near his parents’ house.
Moments later, Hash opened fire, and soon Walker lay dead from gunshot wounds.
In an amateur video filmed just after the shooting and posted online, Hash explains to fellow officers called to the scene that Walker jumped into the middle of the street and that he had hit the brakes to avoid him.
Hash said Walker then threw himself on the vehicle, tore off a windshield wiper, and used it to hit the windshield, which he said prompted him to draw his weapon and open fire to protect his family.
Witnesses have offered a different account, saying that Hash hit Walker with his vehicle before stopping.
“I saw him brake, completely stop, and then keep going,” Elizabeth Ricks told an ABC station. “I saw him hit Jason … then his body was slammed into the windshield.”
Ricks said she then heard shots fired. “I think he fired the first shot
through the windshield and three more times outside the vehicle,” she added.
Police have said Hash’s black pick-up truck had no visible dents and Walker’s body did not show any signs of impact other than bullet wounds.
Hash has been placed on administrative leave but has not been arrested or charged with a crime. State investigators have begun an investigation into the killing.
On Thursday, a judge granted a petition from Fayetteville police chief Gina Hawkins to publicly release footage that she says will show exchanges between Fayetteville police officers and three witnesses at the scene of the shooting, The Fayetteville Observer reported.
On Thursday night, Crump said the family and the broader Fayetteville community were demanding to know why Walker was “senselessly shot and killed” by an off-duty officer.
“We have reason to believe that this was a case of ‘shoot first, ask later,’ a philosophy seen all too often within law enforcement,” Crump said in a statement earlier in the day.
Widespread racial justice protests broke out across the U.S. in 2020 following the killing of Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. A police officer was later charged with murder and sentenced to 22-and-a-half years in prison, in a rare prosecution of a law enforcement officer in an on-the-job incident.
Intermittent protests have continued across the U.S. surrounding other high-profile killings of unarmed Black people, with many advocates calling for wider federal reforms to policing.
U.S. police officers kill an average of 1,000 people each year, with an overrepresentation of African Americans among the victims.
Police are rarely prosecuted, although the major anti-racism protests of 2020 prompted some changes in the courts, with convictions against some police and others in high-profile shooting deaths.