Akron mayoral candidate says he misspoke at forum saying police should 'move in for the kill'
The fatal police shooting of Jayland Walker in Akron last summer has put social justice and police reform at the top of mind for many Akron voters. Walker, a 25-year-old Black man, was wounded or grazed 46 times after a car and foot chase. The shooting is under investigation.
With the mayoral primary election less than two months away, the seven candidates discussed social justice and police reform during a forum Thursday night.
The forum was held by several social justice-focused organizations including the local chapter of the NAACP and Freedom BLOC.
Candidates all agreed public safety is the top issue they are hearing about from voters, but they differed slightly on how to address it.
One of the most controversial moments of the night came when candidates were asked to share how they would make the community safer.
Marco Sommerville, a deputy mayor in the current administration and a longtime Akron politician, proposed that instead of Akron Police chasing suspects who refuse to pull over for a traffic stop, the city could equip police cars with “darts” that attach a tracking device on cars.
Sommerville then said police could track the suspects to their house and “move in for the kill.” Some attendees were audibly surprised by this comment.
After the forum, Sommerville said he misspoke.
“What I was trying to say is they can move in on the person, rather than chase them in the street. In the situation that happened with Jayland Walker, chances are that might not have happened if the police had stopped the pursuit,” Sommerville said. “I made a mistake. A Freudian slip. It was a terrible slip to make.”
The comment was acknowledged by just one candidate, Mark Greer, during the forum.
"On behalf of anyone who has experienced violence or trauma at the hands of law enforcement, when I heard one of my colleagues say 'move in for the kill,' I apologize," Greer said. "That is not the language that is going to move this community forward."
Tara Mosley, councilperson for Ward 5, which encompasses parts of the east and north sides of the city, said she wants police officers to engage with community members more by walking through neighborhoods and talking with residents.
“Getting out of their cars, doing park and walks, sitting on those porches and having a conversation with our elders. Start with our elders and watch how it will trickle down to our young people,” Mosley said.
She’d also like the police department to do away with high-speed chases, she said.
Summit County Councilman Jeff Wilhite said he would like to see more gun buy-back events to reduce gun violence. Keith Mills, a high school teacher, said police should get social-emotional learning training, and advocated for more mentorship programs in schools.
Joshua Schaffer, a cell phone store manager, wants to implement a mental health EMS unit to respond to calls where mental health or drug addiction is involved. He also wants to decriminalize marijuana to free up officers to respond to more public safety-related calls.
Shammas Malik, councilperson for Ward 8 on the city’s northwest side, discussed having more community policing, as well as mentorship opportunities for youth to try to improve relations between the community and police.
Malik helped develop the city’s new civilian police oversight board, which was also a hot-button topic at the forum. Some candidates criticized the board for not having enough authority.
The board is a good first step in improving police accountability, but there is still more work to be done, Malik said.
“The advisory board has some power, right? State laws and contract law limit the power that it has. But you have to have, if it’s an advisory board, you need a mayor and a council that will accept that advice,” Malik said. “We have a million other things to do, but this is the one step that starts creating a base of accountability and transparency and power.”
Schaffer said he’d like the advisory board to be voted on by the people and he would prohibit police officers from serving on it. He also proposed giving raises to the police officers with the fewest citizen complaints.
“So that we’re not just discouraging officers, but we’re encouraging them to be better, to be better citizens, be better officers and to better serve their community,” Schaffer said.
Mark Greer, former Small Business Program Grant manager under the current administration, said young Black men need to be represented on the board.
Council was divided over Imokhai Okolo, a 27-year-old Black lawyer, who was nominated to the board and ultimately did not approve him.
Wilhite said the oversight board, which came from a citizen-led ballot initiative and was approved by 62% of voters, “was a huge step forward” in moving the needle forward for Akron.
“Anyone who occupies that mayor’s seat, if they don’t understand that those kind of referendums are going to keep coming – if we in the mayor’s seat don’t listen to all of you, then they’re sorely mistaken,” Wilhite said. “I encourage that, and I thank you for what you did.”
The candidates were also asked how they thought the city handled the aftermath of Walker’s death and what should have been done differently.
Mosley, Schaffer and Mills said the eight officers involved should have been fired.
“Do you really want officers out there who... they’re going to shoot somebody, well hey, 46 times and just keep on unloading their clips? No, we don’t. You do not want them out there policing your community,” Mills said.
The officers were placed on paid administrative leave but were reinstated a few months later due to staffing shortages in the department.
Greer criticized the city’s initial press conference about the shooting, saying they were “casting judgment” on Walker.
Protests erupted in the city in the days after the shooting, resulting in dozens of arrests. Malik said many of the people should not have been arrested and were not doing anything wrong.
Sommerville said he agreed with the decision to turn the investigation over to BCI instead of handling it internally.