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As Akron waits for Jayland Walker grand jury decision, community groups hold vigils

Community members walk down High Street
Anna Huntsman
Ideastream Public Media
A group of citizens gathered for a prayer vigil Tuesday night on S. High Street in Akron ahead of the special grand jury's decision in the Jayland Walker case.

As Akron prepares for the special grand jury’s decision in the fatal police shooting of Jayland Walker, many residents are feeling “on edge.”

That’s partly why, according to Akron Rev. R. Stacey Jenkins, local pastors and about a dozen community members gathered in front of the Akron Police headquarters and Summit County Courthouse Tuesday night, saying prayers and calling for peace.

“They’re on edge, they’re [feeling] high anxiousness and anxiety,” Jenkins said of his congregation and people he has talked to. “The community’s concern is that when they see things boarded up in advance, that evidently, we know something in advance.”

Jenkins is a pastor at the House of Prayer for All People in Akron.

Eight Akron Police officers fatally shot Walker after a car and foot chase in the early hours of June 27. After the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation completed its nine-month-long investigation into the case, a special grand jury was impaneled Monday. A decision on whether to indict the officers could come within the next two weeks.

City officials have already put up concrete barriers and gates around buildings in the downtown area. This sends the wrong message to the community, Jenkins said - that city officials already know the outcome of the jury and are expecting destructive protests.

The community just wants justice and healing, he said.

“I haven’t heard people looking to tear up and destroy. I’ve just heard of people wanting to come together and pray,” Jenkins added.

James Talbert prays
Anna Huntsman
Ideastream Public Media
James Talbert, lead pastor of Citizens Akron Church, prays outside of the Summit County Courthouse in downtown Akron on Tuesday, April 11, 2023.

The vigil, organized by Christian-based organization Love Akron, was held on South High Street in the city’s designated “demonstration zone.”

The road was temporarily blocked off between Bowery St. and University Ave. as the group walked up and down High St., arms linked together.

In the city’s Firestone Park neighborhood on the south side, near where Walker died, another group held a vigil and painted signs calling for justice.

Jenkins also called for justice and prayed for peace in the city.

“Prayer can change people’s hearts from wanting to tear up to maybe just listening and acceptance,” Jenkins said.

Rev. Stacey Jenkins prays at city municipal building
Anna Huntsman
Ideastream Public Media
Rev. R. Stacey Jenkins prays over the city's municipal building during a vigil April 11, 2023.

Akron Police Chief Steve Mylett called for peaceful demonstrations in a video released Monday evening. He said Akron Police are equipped with the “tools” to disperse crowds if a protest turns destructive.

“My sincere hope and prayer is that protests remain nonviolent, and we are able to interact with the public in a productive way,” Mylett said.

He also pointed individuals to a designated officer, Sgt. Michael Murphy, who will serve as a liaison between the police and groups that want to protest.

Anna Huntsman covers Akron, Canton and surrounding communities for Ideastream Public Media.