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Connecting the Dots is Ideastream Public Media's ongoing project to highlight connections between race and health. The initiative is currently focused on the gun violence plaguing many Northeast Ohio neighborhoods.

Akron leaders call for community policing, collaboration as shooting suspect remains at large

Tara Mosley Weems, a former Akron 
City Councilmember and East Akron resident, talks about what's needed to address gun violence in the city on Monday, June 3, 2024.
Anna Huntsman
Ideastream Public Media
Tara Mosley Weems, a former Akron City Councilmember and lifelong East Akron resident, talks about what's needed to address gun violence in the city on Monday, June 3, 2024.

Sitting on the front porch of her family home in East Akron Monday, former Akron councilmember Tara Mosley Weems reflected on the neighborhood she’s lived in her whole life.

“Most of us have grown up together. We’re related to each other, either by blood or marriage. We are family over here,” Weems said.

That tight-knit community, she said, was rocked on Sunday when police say dozens of shots were fired into a crowd at a block party just after midnight at the corner of Kelly and 8th avenues. One man, 27-year-old LaTeris Cook of Akron, was killed in the shooting and another 24 were injured, according to Akron Police.

A $22,500 reward is being offered for anyone with information that leads to a successful identification, arrest and prosecution of involved parties, according to city officials.

Weems’ doorbell cameras picked up footage of people screaming and running from the shooting, she said.

“It literally sounded like a warzone. And I said, ‘This is insane,’” Weems said. “We’ve experienced that over here. Our house was shot at before. Does that make me want to leave the neighborhood that I’ve lived in my whole life? No.”

Two handguns and more than 35 shell casings were recovered from the scene, Akron Police Chief Brian Harding said in a Sunday news conference.

"Based on the layout of the spent shell casings it appears consistent with someone driving by shooting out of a car," he said. "We believe that some individuals at the party may have returned fire based on physical evidence at the scene."

The block party where the shooting occurred is held every year for a resident’s birthday and is peaceful, Weems added. Hundreds of people from across the city usually attend, she said.

That’s why she believes someone will eventually come forward with information.

“They’re just absolutely going to say something because so many victims are from across the city, they’re attached to other family members who are like ‘No, we can’t let this happen.’ And it’s not about being a snitch, it’s about doing the right thing,” Weems said.

Right now, though, many residents are keeping to themselves and grieving, said Johnnie Hannah, the current councilmember for the area.

“I think everybody is numb, and they are not talking, maybe out of fear, or they just don’t want to talk now,” Hannah said. “But I know for a fact that people don’t feel safe in my ward, especially on the east side.”

Gun violence is a growing problem in East Akron as well as across the city, Hannah said. Several shootings have occurred over the past 60 days, he said.

Going forward, Hannah wants to focus on tackling the root causes of gun violence, such as poverty, he said.

“You have to give people hope, and when our young Black males don’t have hope, then that’s a catastrophe for violence,” Hannah said. “We have been neglected in our neighborhoods for years, and we have not gotten our piece of the pie. We have not even tasted the pie as far as economic development, as far as safe housing.”

Weems is calling for more community policing. She’d like to see more police officers out building trust in the neighborhood.

“We have to recruit officers that understand that you’re going to have to be in the community,” Weems said. “There shouldn’t be – you can pick and choose whether you can be in the community or not. That has to be a requirement.”

Mayor Shammas Malik visited the neighborhood on Sunday, but she said more council members and elected officials need to reach out to the residents and offer support.

“They want to know that people downtown care about them and yesterday, it didn’t show that,” Weems said.

Both Weems and Hannah believe a grassroots effort in collaboration with city partners and nonprofits is key in order to move the needle on gun violence.

Hannah is planning to meet with Malik, police officers and local pastors soon to talk about next steps for tackling gun violence in the area.

Updated: June 3, 2024 at 8:42 PM EDT
This story has been updated to include comments from current Ward 5 Councilmember Johnnie Hannah.
Anna Huntsman covers Akron, Canton and surrounding communities for Ideastream Public Media.