In the months before Deon Kay’s deadly encounter with Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) officers, some of his relatives counted among those who converged on downtown D.C. in protest of George Floyd’s police-involved death and other racially charged violence against Blacks.
Now that this hot-button political issue has hit home, members of the late Kay’s family, including a cousin who requested anonymity, said they’re struggling to fight a sense of disbelief that they, too, could experience a situation similar to what they’ve seen unfold on social media and television.
“Deon’s mom found out about it as soon as it happened. I was at home with my kids,” Kay’s older cousin, a millennial hailing from Southeast, told The Informer on Thursday afternoon while standing in the parking lot on the 200 block of Orange Street in Southeast where officers shot Kay on Wednesday.
Kay’s cousin, along with an elder and family friend, later watched redacted body-camera footage from that Wednesday afternoon, the release of which recently passed emergency legislation mandated within five days of the shooting.
The video, posted on MPD’s YouTube page, shows officers responding to a report of a gun slowly pulling into the parking lot before hopping out of their patrol vehicle.
Kay, who was sitting in a parked car, made a dash. Officers chased him for a few feet before one ran ahead, intercepted Kay’s path and shot him in the chest. Seconds later, after Kay fell to the ground, that officer can be heard frantically looking for the gun and yelling across the courtyard for his colleagues to determine its location.
Kay, 18, was transported to a hospital where he was later pronounced dead.
“This hurts because we have been protesting for Black Lives Matter and George Floyd,” said Kay’s cousin. “This is hard for the family to deal with the police killings. [Deon] did not have a handgun.”
At the culmination of a gun retrieval mission that resulted in Kay’s death, officers from MPD’s Seventh District also arrested and charged two other young men with carrying a pistol without a license and not having a permit for driving. As of Thursday evening, the names of the officers involved in Kay’s shooting have not been revealed.
On Thursday, MPD Chief Peter Newsham, flanked by Mayor Muriel Bowser (D), characterized Kay as a gang member with a criminal history. He said that the footage showed Kay brandishing a weapon that he tossed. The police chief attributed one of the two guns recovered from the scene to Kay.
With an investigation underway, officials said they’re exploring the possibility of additional evidence — forensics, private camera footage, for example.
In speaking about MPD’s release of the body-camera footage within less than 24 hours, Newsham expressed a desire to counter narratives he said incite violence and sow division, locally and nationally. He later spoke about the safety risks that police officers face.
Such explanations didn’t suffice for residents and activists adamant that possession of a weapon doesn’t justify death by police officer, especially if the person allegedly tossed it while evading capture.
Within hours of Kay’s death, protesters representing Black Lives Matter DC, Sunrise Movement DC, and other groups converged on the Seventh District MPD Station on Alabama Avenue. During this mass gathering, one of the latest to coalesce since May, participants chanted Kay’s name and belted demands for body-camera footage.
As seen on social media posts throughout the night and the following morning, the showdown also had its tense moments, including the alleged arrival of an officer’s relatives to hurt a protester.
Since the release of the body-camera footage, a bevy of organizations, including the D.C. chapter of the NAACP, has joined the chorus of supporters demanding transparency from MPD during the investigation into the circumstances of Kay’s shooting death.
Protests continued Thursday morning when a group formed in front of Bowser’s Northwest home and later walked along 16th Street with a large banner.
For months, amid an increasingly popular “Defund the Police” movement, Bowser has been criticized as a key proponent of policies that violate Black people’s civil liberties and embolden police officers to inflict harm. Her unveiling of a mural at Black Lives Matter Plaza and address at the Democratic National Convention have compelled cries of hypocrisy among activists who’ve often recounted the names of young men shot and killed by local police officers.
As seen during the recent budget approval process, Bowser has identified public safety — particularly the strengthening of law enforcement resources — as a priority at a time when intra-community violence has increasingly become a concern.
After a weekend where a peaceful protest descended into clashes between protesters and officers, Bowser alluded to external forces she accused of inciting a race war and harming nearly two dozen officers at public events last weekend. She then called on the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia to serve as a public safety partner, but not before criticizing the office for acting slowly to prosecute protesters that attack officers.
Though she expressed sympathy with Kay’s family, Bowser refrained from commenting Thursday on the content of the body-camera footage, instead framing its release as an opportunity to get more information about the incident.
“When we purchased these body-worn cameras, we knew it wouldn’t answer all the questions for any incident, but they tell us in some part what the officer and the public saw at the time,” Bowser said. “Getting that out in a responsible way is how we can help the public answer some questions.
“What I know is that the officer was trying to get a gun off the street, and he encountered someone with a gun,” the mayor said. “Now the rest of the investigation has to happen and that’s the stage we’re in now.”