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Omar Jackson last saw his mentee, Deon Kay, about a week ago. He had taken some food to Kay and his mother at their home in Congress Heights and stayed to visit with them for a while.
They talked about Kay’s plans to get a GED and a driver’s license, says Jackson, who’s known Kay for the past two years.
“He also wanted a job,” Jackson says. “We had those goals set.”
With Jackson’s support, Kay would set 90-day goals. He’d already enrolled in a GED program. Next on the list was getting a copy of his birth certificate—he couldn’t find his original—so he could get a driver’s license.
“We were setting an appointment, today, actually … to get a copy of that so we could get him an ID,” Jackson tells City Paper.
Jackson spoke to Kay again on Tuesday of this week. They talked about Kay’s girlfriend, and Jackson encouraged him to be responsible. That was the last time the two spoke.
On Wednesday, an MPD officer shot and killed Kay. It was about three weeks after his 18th birthday. Body camera footage of the fatal encounter less than a mile from Kay’s home shows Officer Alexander Alvarez get out of his patrol car and begin chasing a person who he believed to have a gun. The video shows Alvarez turn and encounter Kay running toward him.
Alvarez yells “Don’t move! Don’t move! Don’t move!” and almost simultaneously fires one shot, hitting Kay in the chest. Just before Alvarez fires, a slowed-down version of the footage shows Kay holding a gun in his right hand, which he appears to throw over Alvarez’s head just as the officer fires. After shooting Kay, Alvarez continues to search for the gun in the grass behind a nearby playground. MPD Chief Peter Newsham said during a press conference Wednesday that the gun landed nearly 100 feet from spot where Kay was shot.
When asked at that same press conference whether Kay was known to the officers, Newsham described Kay as a “validated gang member in the area,” and said he had “touches with the criminal justice system.” He declined to say whether Kay had been arrested previously for a gun charge, and added that “this is a tragedy to have any young person killed in the District of Columbia. I’m pretty sure that Deon Kay fell through multiple safety nets before yesterday afternoon just before 4 o’clock.”
The chief’s words don’t sit well with Jackson, who believes Kay had started trying to put whatever troubles he had in the past behind him.
“I think it was insensitive to the moment and to the racial tension that’s going on in America right now,” Jackson says. “I don’t know Deon to be a part of any gang other than his friends who are in his neighborhood.”
Jackson describes Kay as a “carefree kid who was in an environment where what you’re hearing on the news is normal activity. It’s probably one of the most crime-infested neighborhoods in D.C. He had to navigate through that environment daily,” he says.
“He was a kid,” Jackson says. “They’re portraying him as a man, but he was a kid. He was into tennis shoes and video games.”
Jackson says Kay took on the responsibility of walking his younger brother to school and would regularly watch over his nieces and nephews.
“He had a younger brother who really looked up to him. He’s really hurting right now,” Jackson says.
As part of his mentorship, Jackson says he tried to take Kay out of his neighborhood to see other parts of D.C. and the region. They recently took a trip to Black Lives Matter Plaza downtown, and for Kay’s 18th birthday, Jackson drove him and his girlfriend to the National Harbor.
“He was the type of kid who laughed and joked, and when you got him out of that environment you could see the little kid come out,” Jackson says. “He brightens up, and he’s like 12. He gets to be a kid.”
DCist reported that Kay previously attended Ballou STAY Opportunity Academy, and Jackson says more recently he was enrolled at Silver Oak Academy, where he played basketball and football. Silver Oak is a boarding school for young men in Keymar, Maryland, about an hour and a half drive from D.C. But when the pandemic hit, Kay was sent back home.
“To no control of his own, he was thrust back into the very environment that we worked so hard to get him out of,” Jackson says.