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Charlotte artist wonders how his family will find its way back to joy after the killing of a cousin

Charlotte artist de’Angelo Dia says his family is processing the trauma from the death of his cousin 37-year-old Jason Walker who was shot and killed by an off duty officer in Fayetteville last weekend.
de’Angelo Dia
Charlotte artist de’Angelo Dia says his family is processing the trauma from the death of his cousin Jason Walker, 37, who was shot and killed by an off-duty sheriff's deputy in Fayetteville last weekend.

Another fatal police shooting occurred last weekend. Another fatal shooting involving a white officer and a Black man. Jason Walker, 37, was shot and killed in Fayetteville by an off-duty Cumberland County sheriff’s deputy.

Deputy Jeffrey Hash says in a 911 call that Walker jumped on his truck, pulled off his windshield wipers and beat his window. A witness says Walker did not jump on the truck. The deputy is on paid leave.

Walker’s family, meanwhile, is mourning while searching for answers. That includes Walker’s cousin, Charlotte artist de’Angleo Dia. He’s been involved in protests in Charlotte for other shootings. He never dreamed he would be dealing with a police shooting from this perspective. He spoke to WFAE’s Sarah Delia.

Sitting in the Goodyear art space at Camp North End, de'Angelo Dia, 45, takes a deep breath and gets ready to do something that feels unreal to do, discuss the shooting of his cousin. Dia is assistant to the senior pastor at St. Paul Baptist Church and an artist. He recalls watching the video that has circulated on social media, which shows a woman attempting to give aid to his cousin.

DE'ANGELO DIA: There certainly are multiple narratives out there, which makes it difficult for my family to start the healing process. Not that when we have clarity on it that, you know, everything is just going to be, you know, magically better. I don't insinuate that at all. But to start the process, it feels like a step back once you see the video and then to start the process of healing again, it feels like another step back when there's so many confusing narratives that are floating out there. I do hope and pray for the narratives to get some clarity. I think it would be important for my family.

SARAH DELIA: I know that you are a person of faith. How have you leaned on your faith in the last week?

DIA: That's a good question. It's really hard. I had someone yesterday, I spoke at an event yesterday at the Gantt Center and I shared and transparently, I'm mourning and grieving, you know, the loss of my, you know, the taking away of my cousin. And in regards to leaning on my faith, you know, that someone had said to me, "Well, you gained an angel." And I was somewhat offended by that because my thought was, I'd rather have my cousin. I'm struggling with the faith part to be, you know, transparent with you.

The execution of Black and brown people seems like it's a norm in America now, a norm globally, you know, to take their lives. I think faith without application is pointless so for those that are praying, I'm thankful that they're praying. But I also hope that they're applying pressure to our legislators and to put in common-sense gun laws, put pressure on our legislators that there will be more accountability and mandate on our law enforcement officers and those that train them. I think there are things that could have been put in place. And my cousin could have possibly still been here.

DELIA: So you were very instrumental in some of the protests and the response that went through Charlotte in the wake of George Floyd's murder in 2020. You know, before you were kind of, I imagine, a little bit on the outside and now you cannot help but be on the inside. This is your family. Well, how are you feeling and thinking as you reflect on that?

DIA: Yeah, I think any space that there are oppressed individuals, I feel a calling. You know, you was asking me about my faith. You know, when individuals asked where is God? I often think, you know, where are you in proximity to pain? With the situation with George Floyd, I felt it was important, you know, for me as clergy to be in proximity as close as I could be to the pain. Being on the outside of the issue with Keith Lamont Scott and Jonathan Ferrell here in Charlotte and just being a participant, it was important. It was significant. Now because my proximity is like impacted in a different way, I'm already consciously thinking about what it means for me to be a Black man in such a divisive and triggering society.

As an educator, I'm constantly thinking about that for the students of color that I've been able to educate and nurture and spend time with. But now that it has an impact on my family in a different way, it cuts deeper and is much more personal. There are things maybe I didn't think about before. For example, like the the chokehold that was used on Eric Garner, I wouldn't have thought about that hold even being a legal hold had we not had that situation. I'm not sure how many shots were fired, you know, with Breonna Taylor, but now it'll constantly ring with me that it was four shots fired with my cousin. I don't know if Daunte Wright had anyone there with him in his last minutes, but it'll constantly ring with me, you know, the thankfulness that there was someone there to be with my cousin during his last minutes. And I'll also think about when law enforcement show up, you know, are they immediately responding? I don't say this to say that this is the gospel or this is truth. I even worry about the idea of when Officer Hash made a call. They say it was a 911 call. But I wonder if his initial call was to his supervisor or to someone else. I can't assume best intentions anymore.

I don't want to be on the train of trauma as a sense of sparking a movement all the time, but that feels like all we have right now. It feels like our trauma and our pain is the only thing that will get attention in these moments. And I don't think my pain or the pain of my family has to be the only thing that, like, sparks common sense and consciousness for individuals, but it often feels that way.

DELIA: I know that you're a poet. Is there any piece of poetry that you, like religion, are leaning on right now or anything that you've written that has helped process this difficult week?

DIA: That's a good question too. I do turn to my writing for processing. Right now, to be honest, like my writing is heavy, it's more angry writing than holistic writing. If there was any, you know, scripture or hymn or anything, there is a hymn that's called "On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand; All other ground is sinking sand," I do turn to that, but I'll be honest with you right now, in these moments, those when a poem or when a hymn can make me feel good it's so fleeting, so quick. And that's a difference also, I would say, with the killings outside of my personal family. There's a poem called "A Test of a Man," and "Invictus" and I say those poems, at least one of them, every day. Before the killings that took place, I could say one of those poems, I could sing a hymn or listen to a hymn. I could go do a piece of visual art. And I would feel better for a little longer. Right now, the feeling is fleeting, so quick. I don't know if it's possible to maintain joy the same way after something like this.

Even the ideal of celebrating, you know, we call in my faith tradition, we call it a homegoing service versus a funeral. Or a celebration of life. I don't know how much of a celebration of life this would be. Normally a celebration of life means that someone lived a long life. They're individuals that use things... I think about when George Floyd's life was taken. People say, you know, he's a martyr for the cause. Most people that are martyrs choose to be. They know what they're going into. They know the fires that they're attempting to face. None of those individuals, prior to my cousin, Jason, chose to have their lives taken. They didn't choose to be martyrs, and Jason certainly didn't, either. Jason was only 37. And that's a lot of life still to live, and we come from a family of longevity. We have centennials in our family and now to not have him be a part of that legacy. He is a part of our legacy, I don't want to dismiss that. You know what he contributed in the 37 years that he was here, but he should have been here longer. And I will be processing that for the rest of my life.

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Sarah Delia is a Senior Producer for Charlotte Talks with Mike Collins. Sarah joined the WFAE news team in 2014. An Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist, Sarah has lived and told stories from Maine, New York, Indiana, Alabama, Virginia and North Carolina. Sarah received her B.A. in English and Art history from James Madison University, where she began her broadcast career at college radio station WXJM. Sarah has interned and worked at NPR in Washington DC, interned and freelanced for WNYC, and attended the Salt Institute for Radio Documentary Studies.