About 45 people gathered for a “Justice for Jason” protest rally at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park in Fayetteville on a cold Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
The slain civil rights leader was clearly in the thoughts of organizer Shaun McMillan and the slate of speakers, who evoked his memory and shared his uplifting words.
Police say Jason Walker, 37, was shot and killed by off-duty deputy Jeffrey Hash on Jan. 8 on Bingham Drive. Hash, a lieutenant in the civil division, has been placed on administrative leave by the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office while the State Bureau of Investigation looks into the shooting.
No charges have been filed.
Before McMillan took the microphone Monday afternoon, singer Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” played over the speakers.
Linda Morrisey, 53, of Fayetteville, said she decided to attend “because things need to change. As long as they let police continue doing wrong, nothing’s going to change.
“No peace. No justice,” she added, a familiar mantra for those who have attended the rallies and marches staged since Walker’s death.
“Wrong is wrong. Right is right,” Morrisey added.
Monday’s protest was held before King’s statue in the park off Blue Street.
Before it got underway, LaToya Gordon of Hoke County placed a set of “Justice for Jason Walker” signs under the outstretched right arm of the statue of King.
This marked the activist’s eighth protest over the nine days since Walker’s death.
Protesters – wrapped in warm coats and jackets, toboggans, scarves and face masks – said they are seeking accountability and transparency in the investigation. They question why Hash has not been arrested and charged in the shooting. They say that because he is white and Walker was Black, Hash has been treated differently than others who are involved in a shooting.
Hash has said Walker pulled a windshield wiper off his truck and began beating the windshield, breaking it. He told an officer on the scene that his wife and daughter were in the vehicle with him and he felt he had to protect them.
Morrisey said she didn’t think the protests have made a difference, but Gordon said, “I think at least we’re making an effort. I do think it makes them think. Gives them the thought. If you get in somebody’s mind, it sticks with them.”
”We stand with Jason Walker,” McMillan started out during the nearly 90-minute event. “We’re here as much for that action as to see justice for Jason as we are to observe the legacy of the great Martin Luther King Jr.”
After playing portions of King’s speeches for the crowd, McMillan told the protesters, “We stand with Jason Walker. We stand with his family, with his friends, we stand as supporters and look for justice for Jason.”
He then recalled the shooting.
“Jason lost his life in a shooting. Right off Bingham Drive. Jason – he was shot – by an armed motorist,” he said. “And Jason was an unarmed pedestrian. And you might think that sounds a little weird. Then the armed motorist is shooting an unarmed pedestrian, and one week later, the community is still calling for justice.
“We’re still calling for justice because immediately in the wake of that shooting, immediately after the death – which is a homicide – the shooter was not apprehended,” said McMillan, co-founder of the Fayetteville Police Accountability Community Taskforce. “Not arrested. Not charged. There was some extra judgment by the local law enforcement – the FPD – they did not arrest the shooter.”
He was referring to the Fayetteville Police Department and Police Chief Gina Hawkins.
Manny Mejia Diaz, southeastern organizer with Democracy NC, urged the demonstrators to not just show up for protests, but to attend Fayetteville City Council meetings, Cumberland County Board of Commissioners’ meetings and to talk with their local representatives in the General Assembly.
“(It’s a) fight for transparency and accountability here in Fayetteville. … This unjust system is not going to change on its own,” he said. “It requires direct action. It requires organizers and people who are brave enough to show up when it matters. It requires persistence-y.’’
Diaz reminded them that municipal elections are coming up soon.
“To change this unjust system,” he said, “we have to get out and vote. … If we want change, we have to elect officials who want change.”
Michael Futch covers Fayetteville and education for CityView TODAY. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Have a news tip? Email news@CityViewTODAY.com.