“It’s disgusting the way that City Council has done nothing, has done nothing but say thank you to the police, has issued a prayer in the beginning standing with the police,” resident Chad Weaver said during more than an hour of public comments.
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“Yet, they continue to fund murderers that are on the force. They continue to fund police officers that have brutalized protesters at protests.”
At around 9 p.m., two hours before curfew was set to take effect, Beth Vild called in to comment from outside Akron City Hall, where about 120 people had rallied earlier and some had remained to watch the council meeting on a screen organizers put up.
Vild claimed police had blocked protesters in and she wanted immediate action from the council.
“We need checks and balances over these police. We cannot keep living this way,” Vild said as she turned her camera to show snowplows blocking the streets. “We came here to peacefully protest, to talk to our elected officials. We pay your salary and you have us locked in as the cops start to circle.
“I expect to see some of you on your phone talking to police, telling them to remove the barricades. Remove the barricades now,” Vild said.
Council President Margo Sommerville responded to Vild’s comments, asking Vild to pass on a message to those outside.
“There should be someone coming out to make sure that all of those who are blocked in will have the ability to get out,” Sommerville said.
The Beacon Journal saw vehicles, not people, blocked from leaving by city vehicles moved after the protest began. The protest site was empty at 10 p.m.
Akron City Council announced last week that its Monday council and committee meetings and public hearings would be online "in deference to the challenges facing our city and residents at this time." The move sparked criticism from residents during Monday night's meeting.
“I just left City Hall where so many of our neighbors were standing outside of the People’s Hall demanding justice and long-term accountability,” Fran Wilson said. “You all were not there. This meeting is virtual. You all should have been there. We all should be there right now.”
Walker, 25, was shot and killed by eight Akron officers June 27 following a car chase that began in the city’s North Hill neighborhood and ended in Firestone Park. The shooting has spawned two weeks of protests where police have forcefully detained protesters and used tear gas.
Residents criticized Akron police’s use of force during protests as well as the amount of taxpayer money that was being used to fund police response.
"My tax dollars are paying for gear and equipment that APD is using to harm and injure innocent people,” Parinita Singh said. “I'm paying taxes to a city that I don't feel safe living in.”
The demands residents reiterated throughout public comments echoed those put forward by The Freedom BLOC (Black Led Organizing Collaborative), Serve the People Akron and Akron Democratic Socialists of America during a press conference last Thursday. Major demands residents focused on Monday night included abolishing police chases, eliminating traffic stops for all traffic violations and establishing an independent Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate Walker’s death.
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“These are tangible changes that the community is demanding that have occurred in other communities and can save lives, not just those of the people who will be stopped, but others in the community. We know minor traffic stops are a pretext for the brutalization of Black and brown people,” Akron DSA Co-Chair Alyssa Figueroa said. “If council is serious about addressing racism, then council must do something. Firing 90-plus shots in a residential area is not public safety.”
The 21 people who spoke during public comment also called for an end to the curfew and complained about police helicopters circling downtown and surrounding neighborhoods for hours at a time.
“It is not just a few incidents of bad officers but a system that perpetuates racism, terrorizes the communities it's supposed to protect and considers itself above the laws that it claims to enforce,” said Brody Clinite, a member of Akron DSA who asked the council to establish a community review board.
Residents repeatedly called for the firing of the eight officers involved in the shooting and individuals also called for the firings of Akron Police Chief Steve Mylett and Charles Brown, the city’s deputy mayor for public safety. They also put council on notice.
“One man lost his life and that is too many, and we can never let this happen again,” said Heather Hillenbrand, the executive board member representing Akron for Service Employees International Union Local 1. “Akron City Council has the power to change the law and if you don't, we will vote you out next year.”
Crowd rallies in front of Akron City Hall
About 120 people gathered on South High Street, filling the block in front of City Hall nearly two hours before City Council's virtual meeting. A helicopter passed back and forth several hundred feet overhead for about an hour, as speakers took turns with a megaphone.
Several of the speakers urged the crowd to join groups that have been organizing demonstrations, protests and rallies.
"We are here to seek justice for all of our fallen comrades that have been murdered by the Akron Police Department," said Ray Green Jr., with The Freedom BLOC, one of the groups that organized the rally. "This is where the City Council is at, this is where the mayor is at, this is where the laws are made ... Whether they're here our not, we are here. This is our building, and we're going to do something today that's going to show them what we want from our City Council and what we expect from our community leaders."
Other speakers emphasized demands for "justice."
"We are a collective representative of a group," said Judi Hill, president of the Akron chapter of the NAACP. "Our demands may look different, but in the end we all want justice for Jayland. We don't want that ever to happen again, especially in Akron Ohio — Say his name!"
"Jayland Walker," the crowd replied several times to her repeated call.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Residents criticize council's inaction after Jayland Walker shooting