In Raleigh, North Carolina on Monday, a police officer killed a young black man named Akiel Denkins by shooting him seven times in the back as he hopped a fence:
Relatives are claiming details about today’s police shooting and killing of 24-year-old father of two Akiel Denkins that are damning to the police, including that Denkins was shot in the back while fleeing.
As per the account from local TV station WRAL, Denkins had three previous drug convictions and was supposedly wanted on another felony drug charge.
Denkins’ mother, Rolanda Byrd, based on accounts she says she got from eyewitnesses, says her son was running, was shot in the back seven times, and had no gun.
The Raleigh News & Observer report, which also finds a named ear-witness, Louis Rodriguez, who says: “I heard somebody say, ‘Stop, stop,’ then I heard, like, six shots,” Rodriguez said. “Then I heard the screams. Man, it was loud.”
Though details about Denkins’ death are still emerging, it at least superficially resembles last year’s killing of Walter Scott in South Carolina. Scott, an unarmed black man, was likewise shot in the back while running from police to avoid arrest for nonviolent offenses. In his case, the officer involved was charged with murder.
Here, if eyewitness (and earwitness) stories prove correct, the cop who shot Denkins seems to have interpreted the simple act of running from police as justification for lethal assault.
This is a troubling line of reasoning for even the innocent among us. And, as Reverend Chris Jones, a local pastor who knew Denkins, asked, “If he ran from you today, you could have arrested him tomorrow. Why did you have to kill him today?”
Furthermore, while Denkins did have a history of drug crime, these reports suggest there’s no way the officer could have known that because the two men did not significantly interact before he started shooting.
It’s also less than clear that Denkins presented any threat to the officer’s safety. Though police claim a weapon was found near his body, witnesses did not report seeing him use a gun, nor do they suggest that he behaved in an aggressive manner towards the cop. This was flight, not fight.
After Denkins started running, “When they got to the tall fence, the boy jumped the tall fence, but the police couldn’t,” said a woman who saw the shooting happen. “When the police went to jump over the tall fence, he fell. When he fell, he just started shooting his gun.”
Denkins had two young sons and was working to complete his GED so he could become a carpenter.
“They killed my son for no reason,” said Denkins’ mom, Rolanda Byrd. “Everybody out here said he was running, didn’t have a gun, (was) trying to jump a fence, and that officer shot my son seven times.”
“For what?” she added. “For nothing.”
The timing of Denkins’ death is especially gutting, as he was shot on exactly the day the Raleigh City Council was scheduled to discuss requiring body cameras for local police.
Research suggests that the use of body cameras, while no panacea, does significantly affect police behavior. The knowledge that their actions are on record reminds officers to consider options other than violence—and cameras can protect police, too, by verifying their side of the story when a member of the public makes a false accusation.
Because Raleigh didn’t already require this accountability measure, we have no such clarity in Denkins’ case. But based on what we know, so far, it doesn’t look good.