Demonstrators at MLK park in Fayetteville honor King, call for justice for Jason Walker

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Demonstrators gathered on Martin Luther King Jr. Day to honor his legacy and continue seeking justice for Jason Walker who was shot nine days earlier by an off-duty sheriff's deputy.

The demonstration Monday at Martin Luther King Jr. Park in Fayetteville began with recordings of King's speeches, including his 1961 "I Have a Dream" address. Those attending stood silently and reflected on the words as the recording played.

Local activists and Fayetteville residents, many of whom have been out for every protest, recited quotes from King and talked about the importance of living out his mission to seek accountability and equity in their communities.

Myah Warren speaks at a Justice for Jason Walker rally at MLK Memorial Park on Monday, Jan. 17, 2022. Walker, 37, was shot and killed on Saturday, Jan. 8, by an off-duty Cumberland County Sheriff's deputy.
Myah Warren speaks at a Justice for Jason Walker rally at MLK Memorial Park on Monday, Jan. 17, 2022. Walker, 37, was shot and killed on Saturday, Jan. 8, by an off-duty Cumberland County Sheriff's deputy.

"Our community's been rocked by an injustice," said activist Shaun McMillan. "We're here as much for that action, to see justice for Jason, as we are to observe the legacy of the great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr."

Walker, 37, was an unarmed Black man who was shot and killed just a few feet from his home by an off-duty lieutenant with the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office on Jan. 8. His death was the second of a Black man in Fayetteville killed by a motorist in the same week. Days before Walker's death, Stephen Addison, 35, was shot and killed in a road rage incident on Jan. 3.

The two deaths have sparked days of protesting from Fayetteville residents and others who want transparency from law enforcement.

Family members of Jason Walker speak at a Justice for Jason Walker rally at MLK Memorial Park on Monday, Jan. 17, 2022. Walker, 37, was shot and killed on Saturday, Jan. 8, by an off-duty Cumberland County Sheriff's deputy.
Family members of Jason Walker speak at a Justice for Jason Walker rally at MLK Memorial Park on Monday, Jan. 17, 2022. Walker, 37, was shot and killed on Saturday, Jan. 8, by an off-duty Cumberland County Sheriff's deputy.

Walker's death has also garnered national attention. Civil rights lawyer and activist Ben Crump, who represented the families of other unarmed Black Americans including Trayvon Martin, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, visited Fayetteville on Thursday to announce his plans to seek justice and accountability from all parties involved.

On MLK Day, demonstrators wished to keep King's message for truth, justice, and equity alive.

'Now is not the time to stop'

The Statue Bureau of Investigation is currently handling the investigation into Walker's death after the Fayetteville Police Department and the Cumberland County District Attorney's Office announced they would not be handling the case last Sunday.

Some people protesting Walker's death say there should be more action from law enforcement, the SBI, and elected officials in sharing information with the public about what happened.

Few local government officials have been in attendance at any of the demonstrations since Walker's death.

One activist called out the missing officials.

"You would think in a reelection year that's its important to know where your elected official stands," said Myah Warren, a local activist in Fayetteville.

More: Civil rights lawyer Ben Crump calls for justice, saying 'Jason Walker matters'

More: Fayetteville police, DA say outside agencies to investigate shooting death of Fayetteville man

She said also announced that she plans to run for a seat on the Fayetteville City Council.

Engraved on the inner left wall of a statue at the park are words from King's 1963 "Letter to a Birmingham Jail" reading "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

Warren, 24, said Walker's family is grieving.

More: 911 call audio released in Jason Walker shooting death in Fayetteville

"Now is not the time to rest," she said. "Now is not the time to stop fighting."

Change through elections

An advocate from Democracy North Carolina, Manuel "Manny" Diaz, spoke to the crowd Monday about the importance of using voting in election as a tool. He brought several voter registration forms to help register people.

"Jason Walker's another victim of an unjust system," Diaz said. "Organizers and activists in Fayetteville have been fighting for transparency and accountability for years, for several victims ... and we still haven't seen that accountability."

Diaz said the changes to unjust systems require more people showing up not just to marches and protests, but also to city and county government meetings. King was an advocate for voting rights equality and believed voting gave citizens more power to change their communities.

"To change this unjust system, we have to vote. Politicians will react to you voting, they pay attention. We have to show up to vote," Diaz said. "For the past year, I've been hearing a lot of discontent toward City Council in Fayetteville, so I'm expecting a lot of people to show up."

Fayetteville resident and healthcare worker Angela Malloy said that even though she did not know Walker, she has come out each day to protest. She said she wanted to support and stand in solidarity with his family.

"I have a son and a husband and a father and a brother. This could have been any one of them," Malloy said. "For some reason, many in this community have made advocating for justice controversial, marching for justice controversial."

Malloy called out people she believed were being "safe" in their support for Walker and others. She quoted King saying, "in the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends," to say she is focusing on people in the Fayetteville community who have not been speaking out for different injustices.

More: Witnesses in body cam interviews, including Jason Walker's father, say he jumped on truck

Remembering other victims

Toward the end of the demonstration, McMillan said there are other unarmed Black people and people of color who were shot and killed by law enforcement officers in the Fayetteville area. He said the families of those lost have many things in common including a lack of information from authorities.

Shaun McMillan speaks at a Justice for Jason Walker rally at MLK Memorial Park on Monday, Jan. 17, 2022. Walker, 37, was shot and killed on Saturday, Jan. 8, by an off-duty Cumberland County Sheriff's deputy.
Shaun McMillan speaks at a Justice for Jason Walker rally at MLK Memorial Park on Monday, Jan. 17, 2022. Walker, 37, was shot and killed on Saturday, Jan. 8, by an off-duty Cumberland County Sheriff's deputy.

McMillan and others have been demanding more information from law enforcement in Walker's case.

"Another similar thread is feeling like they were alone because there wasn't an outcry after the death of their loved ones," McMillan said. "I think we have an opportunity as a community, as a city, to not allow another family to feel like that."

McMillan said said he hopes that now with the involvement of the SBI and the Department of Justice looking into the Walker case, some questions about the other deaths will be answered.

More demonstrations for Walker are planned for the remainder of the week, according to Warren who urged the crowd to dream of a world with more equality and justice.

"I, too, have a dream," Warren said. "I have a dream that one day my children won't have to stand where I stand, my children won't have to march around Fayetteville... because things will be equal. True equality."

Investigative Reporter Kristen Johnson can be reached at kjohnson1@gannett.com.

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This article originally appeared on The Fayetteville Observer: Protests over Jason Walker's death at MLK park in Fayetteville

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