On April 18, 2020, in an event captured on video and circulated widely on social media, a Black man was shot and killed by a San Leandro police officer inside a local Walmart store.
Steven Taylor, 33, had been having a mental health crisis. He was holding a baseball bat and a tent, and was allegedly attempting to leave the store without paying. But there is broad agreement that the officer, Jason Fletcher, made no effort to de-escalate the situation, firing a fatal shot into Taylor’s chest fewer than 40 seconds after entering the store.
Now, as the one-year anniversary of the shooting approaches, Fletcher has left the police department and faces a charge of felony manslaughter, with a pre-trial hearing set for June.
Taylor “posed no threat of imminent deadly force or serious bodily injury to Defendant (nor to) anyone else in the store,” Alameda County District Attorney Nancy E. O’Malley said in a statement announcing the manslaughter charge last November.
Taylor’s friends and family, along with community activists, are carrying on in his memory, working to reform the treatment of people with mental health disabilities.
The San Leandro City Council has declared April 18 Steven Taylor and Sanctity of Life Day. There is serious talk about a memorial in Taylor’s name at San Leandro Marina, and a broad group of politicians, labor unions, community organizations and residents have sent an open letter to the City of San Leandro demanding the city form a civilian police oversight committee.
On April 18, a Celebration of Life community event is scheduled in San Leandro hosted by Justice 4 Steven Taylor and the youth of Social Justice Academy at San Leandro High School.
Addia Kitchen, Steven Taylor’s grandmother, continues to ask questions, seek support and work for mental health reform in San Leandro.
“We know the justice system does not work for people of color,” Kitchen said. “We understand that.”
“I’m not angry with (Fletcher),” Kitchen added. “I’m angry with the system, the way they train their officers and the way the officers take it upon themselves to be the judge, jury and executioner.”
At every city council meeting, Kitchen is present to share her opinions. The mourning grandmother’s priority continues to be changing the way people in mental health crises are treated.
Kitchen doesn’t do this work alone; she stands with others who have encountered the same loss and struggle.
“It’s been a long hard struggle, but I have a group of people that are working with me, beside me that are serious about justice for Steven,” said Kitchen. “We continue to work. We continue to let our voices be heard.”
San Leandro students and teachers held a virtual march for mental health in March 2021. During the youth-led event, 10 demands were presented — among them, divesting resources from the San Leandro Police Department and its presence in the schools to reallocate money for mental health response.
There are others in San Leandro and the greater Bay Area who have felt the impact of losing a loved one to police violence.
Kitchen has met with Angelo Quinto’s family, who also died when Antioch police officers kneeled on his neck for five minutes in December 2020, and she has met with Oscar Grant’s mother, Rev. Wanda Johnson.
”It was really refreshing for me. I’m able to talk to them, kneel down and talk to them,” said Kitchen.
There is a source of healing that spreads during vigils, walks and meeting with other families, Kitchen said.
“I let them know you are not by yourself,” she said. “There are so many of us. I say they are family even though I don’t know a lot of them.” A GoFundMe established in 2020 has received $26,000, and it remains open to support Steven Taylor’s two surviving sons. The anniversary Celebration of Life is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. on April 18 at San Leandro’s Marina Park.