What began as an equipment violation on his car ended in the loss of Jayland Walker’s life, and a group of Akron residents want to make sure that never happens again.
Prompted by the death of Walker, a 25-year-old who was shot more than 40 times by Akron police in June following a brief car chase over a traffic violation, community organizers launched the Freedom Taillight Project, which provides free minor car repairs to those who need it.
The inaugural event took place Saturday at 1326 Vernon Odom Blvd. in Sherbondy Hill, which is a predominantly Black neighborhood.
“Jayland Walker was pulled over for (an equipment violation) and ended up dead,” said lead organizer Madonna, who uses that name in protesting spaces for her safety and privacy. “We know that can happen to anybody. More often it happens to Black and brown and Indigenous folks because that’s statistically shown, and we know poorer communities are disproportionately policed compared to affluent, white neighborhoods.”
Madonna and other members of the Freedom Taillight Project spent five hours providing aid to Akron motorists, as well as food and music. Domino’s donated free pizzas and Advanced Auto Parts offered discounts on headlight bulbs after the group bought so many. Both businesses are located on the same block as the event.
The group raised about $250 through CashApp donations at $FreedomTailPro. Funds were used to purchase bulbs for headlights, license plate lights and taillights, all of which could constitute a traffic stop if burned out. Volunteers also used tape for cracked lights to make them street legal.
“I definitely appreciate the assistance, and the free light bulbs are a great help,” said 25-year-old Akron resident Bernard Swain as the group worked to change his headlights. “I’m definitely here for the cause and what everyone’s looking to do and make a change around here.”
Madonna said Freedom Taillight Project plans to host an event each month until the weather gets too cold, at which point they will raise funds for the spring. The goal, she said, is to establish a nonprofit and bank account for any groups nationwide that wants to hold similar clinics.
“A lot of people are approaching the racial justice fight from a lot of different angles,” Madonna said. “This is just another way of doing that.”
Reporter Abbey Marshall is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places offices into local newsrooms. Learn more at reportforamerica.org. Contact her at at firstname.lastname@example.org.