The reason behind why Derek Walker may have pulled a gun on himself and police is as shocking and heartbreaking as his death after he was shot by cops in downtown Durham, North Carolina: the 26-year-old father, worn out from a years-long custody battle with the mother of his son, simply couldn’t fight anymore.
Walker died an hour into a stand-off with police on Tuesday; Cpl. R.C. Swartz shot Walker after, police say, the distraught, suicidal father brandished a gun. Swartz has been put on paid administrative leave.
Some 16 hours before the shooting, Walker posted a Facebook status saying he wanted to die after losing his son in a custody dispute that stretched back to 2007.
“Don’t call me and don’t talk to me because I’m not responding. I hope I die very soon and a fast death because this world I live in is sorry. I can’t take [what] my son’s mother is putting me through. She has filled [my son’s] head up with so much false stuff. He has told me I’m a bad father, I’m not a good dad. I’m ready to die because I have no reason to live right now.”
After seeing his shocking post, friends and family members tried to reach out to Walker to beg him not to hurt himself, but Walker, who worked at a funeral home, would not listen to their pleas. Franklin Hanes, the owner of the Hanes Funeral Service, where Walker worked, said he talked to Walker at about the time of his standoff with police.
“He just said, ‘I want you to bury me in my funeral suit.’” Hanes recalled in an interview with WNCN. “I said, ‘No, because we have two funerals this week and you’ve got to be here to do these funerals. Everybody loves you. People [have] been calling. He listened to me about two minutes but he was crying the whole time—hard. And, he said, ‘I love you.’ And that was it.”
What tears me up about this story is not just that an apparently loving, caring, dedicated Black father is dead and another black boy is going to grow up without a dad, but that two adults grown enough to make a baby together couldn’t be grown enough to figure out how to raise that baby together sans the foolishness and bitterness and anger that comes in nonsensical custody battles. The fight between Walker and his son’s mother, Latasha Alston, was long and ugly (despite that she told WNCN that the two had never fought in court over their son). Court documents, at least a half-inch thick, show accusations of domestic abuse (his), refusal to deliver the boy for court-ordered visitation (hers), accusations that the boy wasn’t being cared for properly by the mother or her babysitter, court-ordered parenting classes for both the mom and dad and, as recently as September 13, accusations that Derek Walker was “acting out” in front of their child during a handover, which, according to the mother, got the boy upset.
Alston insisted to a WNCN reporter that she and Walker “were cool” and that there was no animosity between the two. “That’s why I am shocked. We were fine,” she said.
“He will truly, truly be missed by us,” Latasha Alston said Wednesday. “He was my son’s heart. I’m sorry it happened like this.”
For real? Sorry it happened “like this”?
I mean I get it: the last thing sis wants to do is shoulder the blame for what happened to the father of her son (Walker’s family and friends place blame squarely on the police department response that led to the man’s shooting death), but come on: who’s here for the wholesale dismissal of a father’s feelings—the intense love he has—for his children? Or how court custody battles, Usher and Dwyane Wade notwithstanding, almost always favor the mother at the expense of the father and his desire to be an integral part of his children’s life in a way that extends beyond every other weekend and the occasional holiday? I mean, I’m a mother, and I’d just as soon have my heart ripped from my warm body while I watched than have my children taken from me. But don’t we all think it’s high time that we understood that fathers can and do feel the same way? And that maybe, just maybe, rather than fighting over the kids, we would bode much better to embrace letting go of our anger and bitterness toward our exes and, for the sake of our babies, learn how to get along and share the child? After all, it takes the passion, the blood, the bodies, the hearts of two to create a baby. This does not change just because we’re mad and can’t get along today.
My heart aches for Walker and especially for his son, who now must go through life without a daddy, but also knowing that his father was killed, in part, because his mom and dad couldn’t see fit to let their love for their child outweigh the ugliness they reserved for one another.
Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.