In the days after the release of body-camera footage showing Deon Kay’s last moments, debates have raged on about his alleged possession of a gun, and to what degree he and other young people in his Southeast community should hold themselves accountable when interacting with the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD).
During a recent vigil for Kay, many of those who converged on the corner of Mellon Street and Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue made known their position on the matter when, seconds before releasing several balloons into the sky, they loudly chanted a widely popular, and obscene, slogan often aimed at law enforcement officials.
In the several minutes leading up to the climactic end to an emotionally charged event, a bevy of community members, including Kay’s older sister, spoke before an audience of nearly a hundred about the young man they said had been criminalized by forces responsible for his Sept. 2 death.
“I don’t care what y’all said [Deon] did, he did nothing to the police,” Tyesha Kay, dressed in all white, said Saturday evening during the more than two-hour vigil.
She stood in front of Mellon Market, surrounded by photos of Kay, Kay’s former teachers, mentors, community members, and affiliates of Black Lives Matter DC (BLM DC) who assisted in coordinating the event.
The vigil, which was scheduled to precede a march to MPD’s Seventh District station on Alabama Avenue, had been reported by BLM DC Core Organizer April Goggans as one of the largest attended for a victim of police-involved shooting within the last few years. Ward 8 Council member Trayon White (D) and Ward 8 D.C. State Board of Education Representative Markus Batchelor counted among community members who poured onto the nearby sidewalk, into Mellon Street and into the gas station across the street.
After singer and activist Ayanna Gregory poured libation and led a calling of the ancestors, Kay’s sister and others reflected on their experiences with the adolescent.
“Deon loved my kids. I got five kids he left behind. He didn’t ask for this,” the elder Kay continued as she reminisced about her brother.
“You can perpetrate and paint him how you want him to be. I watched this little boy come out, I changed his Pamper, [and] we walked to school together. He never showed me that. I know him inside. Justice for my brother.”
A Growing List of Questions
In a statement last week, the newly formed D.C. Police Reform Commission, which coalesced in the passage of emergency police reform legislation earlier this year, has called for an independent investigation into the circumstances of Kay’s death. Other requests, made during an emergency meeting, include body-camera footage from other officers on the scene, and access to the records of Officer Alexander Alvarez, who MPD identified as the shooter.
The redacted footage MPD released less than 24 hours after the shooting shows Alvarez and his colleagues 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 Alvarez ran ahead, intercepted Kay’s path and shot him in the chest. Seconds later, after Kay fell to the ground, Alvarez can be heard frantically looking for the gun — that officers said they later found 98 feet away from Kay.
Kay, 18, was transported to a hospital where he was later pronounced dead. Officers arrested and charged two other young men with carrying a pistol without a license and not having a permit for driving.
Community members would later recount a rapid clean-up of the scene.
Hours after Kay’s death, several people descended upon MPD’s Seventh District where they protested for hours into the night. The next morning, another group formed in front of Bowser’s Northwest home before marching along 16th Street.
During the D.C. Police Reform Commission’s emergency meeting, the 20-member panel questioned MPD Chief Peter Newsham and Interim Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Roger Mitchell about whether a 911 call prompted officers to go to the 200 block of Orange Street SE and the distance from Kay’s body they found a gun. They also called into question Newham’s characterization of Kay as a gang member in the aftermath of police-involved shooting, and other aspects of what commission member Patrice Sutton described as MPD’s focus on escaping liability rather than preventing future shooting deaths.
“People want to know why this happened in the first place and how we can keep from happening again, and all you’re releasing is a small snippet of if it’s justified in the moment and that doesn’t speak to a larger concern,” Sutton said to Newsham during the Friday afternoon meeting.
“Why haven’t you released the other bodycam footage?” she asked.
The Bigger Picture
Kay’s death comes amid protests across the country in response to the police-involved shooting deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and several other Black people, that have prompted calls to defund police departments and implement federal measures holding police officers accountable.
In June, the D.C. Council passed emergency legislation that not only institutionalized the D.C. Police Reform Commission, but banned officer chokeholds and hiring of officers with a history of misconduct, and required the immediate release of bodycam footage whenever a police officer fatally shoots someone.
The council would later approve a FY 2021 budget that decreased MPD’s allocation by $15 million, much to the chagrin of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D).
For years, the Bowser administration has drawn the ire of community members and activists who say she has stalled the implementation of the Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results (NEAR) Act, designed to connect residents to deterrents to violent crime. In the last week, as cries to fire Newsham have grown louder, the conversation has shifted to how the District’s most marginalized residents don’t have allies in the police force.
Mike D’Angelo, an anti-violence activist and uncle of the late Mikayah Wilson, echoed those sentiments during the Sept. 5 vigil on the corner of Mellon Street and Martin Luther King, Jr Avenue., where he presented a Demont Pinder painting of the late Kay.
“I can guarantee you, the cop that shot Deon is not from this city or community. He didn’t take the time to see why Deon was running for his dear life,” D’Angelo said on Saturday as he issued a call to action to mourners.
“Why are we funding the same police who put guns in their hands to police us?” he continued. “And they don’t have the proper training to not make a decision based on emotion. A split-second cost him a life. But here’s what we’re gonna do. [We] have to stop relying on them to solve our problems.”