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Jayland Walker's high school coach reflects on the young man's life and death

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Tonight will be the first time this week without a curfew in downtown Akron, Ohio. The city had it in place in response to protests that erupted Sunday after police released video of the shooting death of 25-year-old Jayland Walker. Those protests, a sign of weariness, heartbreak and outrage over the death of another Black man at the hands of police.

Police say Walker led them on a chase during a traffic stop on June 27. They also say they found a gun in his car afterwards. And as we wait to learn more about the details surrounding his death, those who knew Walker are sharing more details about his life. That includes Robert Hubbard, a local high school wrestling coach who knew Jayland Walker for years. He joins us now. Hi, Robert.

ROBERT HUBBARD: Hello.

SUMMERS: First of all, I just want to ask how you're doing.

HUBBARD: I've had a little time to come to grips with it, so I'm doing better. But when I first heard, I was just shocked - just total shock. It made no sense to me knowing - the gentleman I knew, the young wrestler I knew since he was about 8 or 9 years old. It just made no sense.

SUMMERS: Tell us about how you came to know him. What was Jayland like?

HUBBARD: I met Jayland through - his father brought him to a youth wrestling team we have. And eventually I got him in high school, and he was a kid that I never had any problems from. I've had some kids that have tested me and pushed me. Jayland Walker was not one of those kids. Jayland was, you know, one of the sweetest kids, hardest workers, you know, one of those kids that, you know, I wish I had 10 of them on my team. That was the type of kid he was.

SUMMERS: Have you been in touch with Jayland's family since he died?

HUBBARD: I briefly spoke with his grandmother. I was more close with his father, and his father passed away about four years ago. But I did just happen to see his uncle in passing yesterday. It's rough seeing each other under these types of circumstances.

SUMMERS: Have you seen the video that the Akron police released of the altercation in which Jayland was shot and killed?

HUBBARD: I watched maybe the first three camera views before I couldn't watch it anymore. The Jayland I know - that's totally out of character. I don't know. I understand he was going through some stuff. He'd just lost his fiancée in a terrible car accident. But still, seeing that, it seemed like the way that ended - I'm not a police expert on protocol or anything. You know, over these years, we've been talking about de-escalation. It seemed like there was no de-escalation. And once that car stopped - they were just on a hundred as soon as they got out there. As the families say, it seems like you wouldn't treat an animal that way. That was - it was heartbreaking. I'm sorry. After watching it, it's - I mean, it was traumatizing.

SUMMERS: I wonder, given all of that, what would justice look like?

HUBBARD: You know, I hadn't thought about that. What I want is for nobody else to have to lose a loved one the way Jayland's family lost him.

SUMMERS: We should note here that police have said that there was a shot fired. They have pointed out that they did recover a gun from Jayland's car.

HUBBARD: That's what they say. But, I mean, that could have been anything. When they shot him down, he had no weapon on him. So why were they so fearful of him at that point? I don't know.

SUMMERS: You're a parent. You're a father of sons. I guess, I'm curious, given this and some of the other high-profile instances that we have seen across this country - deaths of Black men at the hands of police - what would you hope an encounter could look like should yourself, should one of your sons end up in this situation? It is clear that you don't believe it should look like what you saw happen to Jayland.

HUBBARD: Definitely. I mean, I think at worst, Jayland might have needed some help. If they had handled it differently - if they had, you know, subdued him and got him in, they probably could've gotten him some help. This is somebody that has not hurt anybody. But now he's - you know, he doesn't get to go to his arraignment like the gentleman in Illinois. And if my kids are having some trouble like that, hopefully they can get them some help.

When I think of my sons - like, my son was home this weekend from school because he just graduated from Ohio State in Columbus - man, I had to give him an extra hug. Like, I'm so glad I have my son here. I can hug you. But if something like this happens, my wish is that they can get them the help - not be judge and jury. But actually, you know, if he needs to be arrested, get him arrested. That would be my wishes - not to be afraid of him to the point that after I've put 60 rounds in him, he still needs to be handcuffed.

SUMMERS: Robert Hubbard is a local high school wrestling coach who first met Jayland Walker when he was a young man and has known him for years. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us.

HUBBARD: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.
Erika Ryan
Erika Ryan is a producer for All Things Considered. She joined NPR after spending 4 years at CNN, where she worked for various shows and CNN.com in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Ryan began her career in journalism as a print reporter covering arts and culture. She's a graduate of the University of South Carolina, and currently lives in Washington, D.C., with her dog, Millie.
Ashley Brown is a senior editor for All Things Considered.