CAROLINA (AFP): The death of an unarmed African-American man shot by an off-duty white police officer under mysterious circumstances has fueled outrage in Fayetteville, North Carolina, where relatives of the victim are calling for protests Thursday.
Prominent rights lawyer Benjamin Crump and the family of Jason Walker have scheduled a “rally for justice” at 8:00 pm (0100 GMT) in the city.
Small clusters of residents have already marched this week in Fayetteville to demand the arrest of officer Jeffrey Hash, in a case that has revived debate over whether police use excessive force in the United States, particularly against minorities.
Hash, employed by the city since 2005, was off duty when the shooting occurred on Saturday afternoon.
The officer was driving in his vehicle with his wife and daughter when they neared 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 of gunshot wounds. Exactly what transpired is in dispute.
In an amateur video, filmed just after the shooting and posted online, the police officer explains to colleagues called to the scene that Walker jumped into the middle of the street and that he braked to avoid him.
According to Hash, Walker then threw himself on the vehicle, tore off a windshield wiper and used it to hit the windshield, prompting Hash to draw his weapon to protect his family.
But witnesses say Hash hit the pedestrian 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.”
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 truck had no visible dents and Walker’s body did not show any signs of impact other than bullet wounds.
The officer was placed on administrative leave, but has not been arrested or charged with a crime. State investigators have begun a probe into the killing.
Crump said the family and broader Fayetteville community were demanding answers to 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, known for his fight against police brutality, said in a statement.
US 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.