The death of an unarmed African-American man who was shot mysteriously by an off-duty white police officer has sparked outrage in Fayetteville, North Carolina, where relatives of the victim are calling for protests Thursday.
Prominent law attorney Benjamin Crump and Jason Walker’s family have scheduled a “rally for justice” in the city at 8 p.m. (0100 GMT).
Small groups of residents have already marched in Fayetteville this week to demand the arrest of Officer Jeffrey Hash in a case that has revived debate over whether police in the United States use excessive force, particularly against minorities.
Hash, who has been employed by the city since 2005, was off duty when the shooting happened Saturday afternoon.
The officer was traveling in his vehicle with his wife and daughter as they approached Walker, an unarmed 37-year-old black man who was crossing the street near his parents’ home.
Moments later, Hash opened fire and soon Walker lay dead from gunshot wounds. What exactly happened is up for debate.
In an amateur video, filmed and posted online shortly after the shooting, the police officer explains to colleagues on the scene that Walker jumped and braked in the middle of the street to avoid him.
According to Hash, Walker then threw himself at the vehicle, ripped off a windshield wiper and used it to hit the windshield, causing Hash to draw his gun to protect his family.
But witnesses say Hash hit the pedestrian before he stopped.
“I saw him brake, come to a complete stop and then keep going,” Elizabeth Ricks told an ABC station. “I saw him hit Jason…then his body was slammed against the windshield.”
She then heard shots fired, Ricks said. “I think he fired the first shot through the windshield and three more times outside the vehicle,” she said.
According to police, Hash’s black pickup had no visible dents and Walker’s body showed no signs of impact other than gunshot wounds.
The officer has been placed on administrative leave but has not been arrested or charged with any crime. State investigators have launched an investigation into the murder.
Crump said the family and the wider Fayetteville community were demanding answers as to why Walker was “shot senselessly” by an off-duty officer.
“We have reason to believe this was a case of ‘shoot first, ask later,’ a philosophy all too often seen within law enforcement,” Crump, known for his fight against police brutality, said in a statement.
American 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 sparked some changes in the courts, with convictions against some police and others in high-profile shootings.
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