The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

D.C. police shooting of Deon Kay spurs calls for change at protests, vigil Saturday

People gather near the home of Deon Kay for a candlelight vigil on Saturday. (Evelyn Hockstein/for The Washington Post)
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Protests continued in the nation’s capital Saturday for Deon Kay, a young Black man fatally shot by D.C. police this past week after officers saw a gun in his hand during a police chase.

Roughly 50 people gathered outside the 7th District police station in Southeast Washington in the early afternoon, chanting the name of the 18-year-old and demanding justice. Later, family and friends gathered near Kay’s home for a vigil to honor his life.

Demonstrations over Kay’s death come amid protests nationwide calling for racial justice and decrying violence against Black men and women. In the District, which saw more than a month of fervent — sometimes violent — demonstrations after George Floyd’s death in the custody of Minneapolis police, protesters angered by Kay’s shooting are demanding officials launch an independent investigation. They’ve also called for the firings of D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham and Officer Alexander Alvarez, who authorities say shot Kay.

On Saturday outside the police station, a series of speakers — including community organizers, activists and teachers — repeated these demands. Many who attended said they were affiliated with the Party for Socialism and Liberation. Sean Blackmon, an organizer with the group who led the rally, criticized how D.C. police approached Kay.

Mildred King Chatman — a 68-year-old born and raised in Southeast Washington — and her relatives arrived in three cars with speakers and signs that read “Stop the Killings.”

But Chatman said she didn’t entirely agree with other signs that declared, “jail killer cops,” or talk of defunding the police. Although she watched the video of Kay’s killing, she said she needs to see more angles before she can fully understand what happened.

“We don’t want to lose all of our relationships with cops,” she said. “You can say what you want to say, but you are going to need the cops here.”

Near the end, Kay’s aunt, Marie Kay, rose to address the crowd, saying she believes her nephew threw away his gun when he saw police because he was afraid.

She said the 18-year-old had played with guns before but “never hurt no one.”

“This ain’t adding up,” Marie Kay said. “Justice needs to be done.”

Police body-camera video shows man fatally shot by D.C. officer had gun

Officials have cautioned that the investigation into the shooting was just beginning.

Newsham said Thursday there is “a lot of misinformation” percolating about the shooting. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) has urged citizens not to let “anger spill over into violence” in the city, which released footage from Alvarez’s body camera less than 24 hours after Kay was fatally shot.

The shooting took place Wednesday in Washington’s Congress Heights neighborhood. Kay, who lived with his mother a half-mile from where he was shot, was hit in the chest and later died at a hospital, according to authorities.

Police arrived in Kay’s neighborhood after spotting a live-streamed social media video of Kay and others inside a car, holding weapons, according to Newsham. The officers recognized Kay and another man from previous police encounters, Newsham said.

Just before 4 p.m., police tracked the vehicle — a Dodge Caliber — to the River Hill apartment complex, at which point, one occupant exited the car and ran away. Kay emerged next, and Alvarez, the officer, began running toward him. Kay can be seen on the body-cam video holding a gun and turning to face Alvarez, who is heard shouting “Don’t move! Don’t move!”

Alvarez fired one shot, and Newsham said Kay threw away his own weapon, which was found downhill, nearly 100 feet away, in a swath of grass near the apartment complex, Newsham said.

But Kay’s family, and many protesters, have questioned this account of the shooting.

Alvarez, who is in his mid-20s and joined the police force in 2018, was previously the subject of a complaint filed with an independent review board. Little is known about the complaint, except that it was ultimately dismissed, and officials would not elaborate.

Attempts to reach Alvarez this past week were unsuccessful.

D.C. police officer fatally shoots man in Southeast Washington

Police arrested two other people who were allegedly riding in the vehicle with Kay. Police said they discovered a gun on one of the men charged.

Newsham also called Kay a “validated gang member” who had “multiple touches with the criminal justice system,” although the chief’s assertions could not be verified and he would not offer details.

Kay’s mentor, a man named Omar Jackson who had worked with him for two years, described a young man who was trying to escape his “chaotic situation.” Jackson said Kay had just enrolled in a high school equivalency program and liked to spend time with his girlfriend, nieces and nephews.

“He was trying to get himself together,” Jackson said in an interview after the shooting.

Protests over Kay’s death began almost immediately, with demonstrators gathering outside the 7th District police station on Wednesday night and outside Bowser’s home on Thursday morning.

By 6:30 p.m. Saturday, more than 150 had arrived for the vigil at the intersection of Mellon Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue. Many brought candles. Others attached large gold balloons that spelled out Kay’s name along the fence in front of his apartment building. Another set of balloons spelled his nickname, D3.

As the last light of the day disappeared, a woman yelled, “Say his name” and the crowd yelled back “Deon Kay.”

“Let him hear y’all say it,” a woman called to the crowd, and they yelled out his name again.

The group asked for justice and held flickering candles in their hands before releasing balloons into the sky.

In addition to the gatherings near Kay’s home, a group of more than 100 protesters marched from Arlington into Georgetown on Saturday, temporarily shutting down the Key Bridge along the way. They then walked east on M Street and met up with dozens more protesters in Dupont Circle calling for justice for Kay and the abolition of the police department.

Standing on the steps of the fountain at the center of the circle, self-proclaimed “protest dad” S. Simpson looked over the crowd and demanded to know why Bowser hadn’t done more in the aftermath of the shooting of Kay to engage the community and punish Alvarez.

“To Mayor Bowser, … you have continued to show that you value your own relationship with the police better than the citizens in this city,” Simpson said.

Some in the group marched to another police precinct, then returned to Dupont Circle. Near midnight, one protester was taken into custody. Demonstrators said the man was one of the group’s bike scouts, who rode ahead of the march, blocking streets and using bikes to stop cars.

A protester who declined to give his name said the man had ridden his bike at the police, then veered off at the last second. Officers chase after him and the man leaped off his bike.

One police officer threw his own bike at the man, knocking him to the ground.

The man was handcuffed as a small crowd yelled and jeered. His light blue bike, spray painted with the initials BLM, sat abandoned behind the police line.

In Southeast Washington, the situation also grew tense as Kay’s family and several dozen other protesters returned to the 7th District station just before 10 p.m., marching along Alabama Avenue SE from the vigil.

They confronted officers who had lined up outside the station waiting for them, and used megaphones to shout and chant at police, demanding that the officers say Deon Kay’s name.

“Why’d y’all shoot my son?” one relative asked. “That’s all I want to know.”

The officers, mostly silent, pointed small strobe flashlights in the protesters’ faces. Some protesters shone lights back. One officer struck a protester’s megaphone. Two officers pushed protesters, but the contact ended quickly.

Police told the crowd to stay back, using tape to show them where to stand, and threatened to arrest people who crossed the line.

“I hope you can’t sleep at night,” one woman screamed repeatedly.

Fredrick Kunkle and Marissa J. Lang contributed to this report.