Students Demand Action After Death of Steven Taylor


Photo by Erica Viray-Santos

Rees Sitchon, Editor In Chief

While San Leandro is often praised for being a sanctuary city, not everyone feels safe and protected within its borders. 

Zeke Markham, a senior in San Leandro High School’s Social Justice Academy (SJA), has changed his day to day routines and experiences since spring. In addition to changes like wearing a mask to keep himself and others safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, he also has had to focus more on a different element of his safety.  

“Being a young black male in San Leandro is pretty difficult. Having the constant fear of having to deal with the police is stressful,” said Markham. 

On April 18th, Steven Taylor, a member of the San Leandro community, was having a mental health break when police were called to the local Walmart. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that after 40 seconds of interaction, Taylor was shot by SLPD Officer Jason Fletcher. He was later tazed by Officer Stefan Overton. The incident can be seen on a short video provided by NBC

Taylor loved to sing, was the oldest of three, and was a 2005 graduate of San Leandro High School.

 “He was a good kid, never had the police at the house, had a lot of friends” said Addie Kitchen, his grandmother. “He got older [33], went out on his own, and he got strung out on drugs and became homeless. I hadn’t seen him since February; the last I heard was that he had been murdered in the San Leandro Walmart by the police.” 

After Taylor’s death, Kitchen said she tried many times to get in contact with city officials. She recalled it wasn’t until her daughter-in-law called Congresswoman Barbara Lee—who then called Mayor Pauline Cutter—did the Mayor or Police Chief Jeff Tudor reach out to her. 

 “The mayor called me the next day. It was just the same old generic… ‘we’re sorry for your loss is there anything we can do for you?’” Kitchen said. “Yeah arrest the man that killed him, that is what I asked for!”

She said the request was ignored. The Cargo also reached out to Mayor Cutter for comment twice with no reply.

“I emailed the mayor and emailed the chief, but they didn’t respond, so Justice For Steven Taylor (J4ST, a local group working towards making sure there is justice for Taylor) said, ‘We’re going to every city council meeting and we’re going to be questioning them’, and that’s exactly what we’ve done.” said Kitchen. 

J4ST group works with Kitchen and includes many students from the San Leandro High School Social Justice Academy (SJA). 

“It makes me feel very uneasy knowing that that could have been me, that could have been my cousins, it could have been anybody,” said Markham from SJA. 

Kitchen works closely with youth from San Leandro High, and she said that she is pained by their fears. 

“It hurt because in 2020 we’re still trying to educate our young men and women on how to survive the madness that the police instill on us; that’s horrible.”

Six months after Taylor’s death, Officer Fletcher was never arrested for the shooting and Officer Overton is still patrolling the streets of San Leandro. Students have continuously expressed their discontent with the San Leandro City Council after the death of Taylor; the students say the council is not doing enough to address their concerns. 

“You’ll see a majority of San Leandro City Council with posters saying things for the Black Lives Matter movement, but you’ll never actually see anybody doing anything in the position they hold.” Said Jazlyn Magat, another senior in SJA. “Nobody is asking them to paint the street, we’re asking them to make direct change and give direct justice to Steven Taylor and his family.” 

The same students have also said that they have been facing a lot of obstacles to speak during the council meetings. 

“People are saying real stuff, people are speaking from the heart, and putting their emotions into their statement and they only get a ‘thank you for your comment.’ People don’t acknowledge that and they just move right on,” said Markham.

On September 8th during a city council meeting, public comment which was initially item 3 of 14, was closed and pushed toward the end of the meeting, the meeting adjourned at 1:59 in the morning. Students who wanted to talk said they had to choose between going to class the next day exhausted or missing their chance to speak to the city council directly. 

 “There were a lot of young people with their hands raised and wanted to speak and they literally cut them off,” said Kitchen, in reference to some speakers who were muted before the allotted 2 minutes was over near the end of the meeting. 

More recently Mayor Cutter and Police Chief Tudor have approved of Officer Fletcher’s retirement. The community is responsible for retirement money, meaning the community’s tax dollars are going to the officer that shot Taylor.

 “They would rather pay a cop for the rest of his life than ever give justice to Steven Taylor” said Rodrigo Ventura, an SJA senior. 

SJA students have expressed what they want from the city council to make meetings better in the future. 

“They need to show compassion and be aware that the people in this city feel unsafe” said Adrielle Galvan-Barrera, junior in SJA. 

“We’re not asking for too much. We just want them to give people the respect that they need and deserve, especially the family of Steven Taylor,” said Markham. 

Nancy O’Malley, District Attorney of Alameda County since 2009, charged Officer Fletcher with felony manslaughter on September 2nd of this year. Historically O’Malley has not prosecuted law enforcement. 

“When she decided to file charges on Fletcher we were surprised.” said Kitchen. 

With this, Kitchen says she is hoping that Taylor will not have died in vain. 

“We’re hoping that we will have been able to make some kind of a dent in what’s going on in our society and our community,” Kitchen said.

She said she wants people to understand that is is not okay for officers to go out and murder and assault the citizens of Alameda County. 

“Before what happened to Steven Taylor I always knew to be aware of my surroundings, but I still wasn’t as safe and cautious about the things I was doing. But now that I see that people can get killed for nothing, I always watch my back and make sure whatever I’m doing, I’m aware of,” said Markham.