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Akron mayoral candidates react to Jayland Walker grand jury decision

A person dressed in black holds a sign reading Justice 4 Jayland with a picture of Jayland Walker
Gabriel Kramer
Ideastream Public Media
A demonstrator holds a Justice 4 Jayland sign on Monday, April 17, 2023, after a grand jury decides against indicting the eight officers who fatally shot the 25-year-old Black man in June 2022.

On Monday, a special grand jury hearing the investigation of eight Akron police officers in the killing of Jayland Walker returned a no bill, meaning they chose not to indict any of the officers involved. City officials, civic leaders and clergy have appealed for calm and peaceful protests in light of the decision. Attorneys for Walker's family and community activists have called for peace but have also said it's important to maintain pressure on the city.

Akron residents will elect a new mayor this year. There are seven Democrats competing in the primary next month. No Republicans are on the ballot. All seven have issued statements following the grand jury's decision.

Mark Greer

“Last night I spent my time praying for Akron. My city. My home. My family.

“Like you, I watched the press conference of Attorney General Dave Yost and learned the results of the special grand jury, that there would be no criminal charges in the killing of Jayland Walker. The news hit me like a rock. The weight of this decision, much like the wait for justice, has grown heavy. Too heavy for us to carry alone.

“That evening I went to the press conference at St. Ashworth Temple where the Walker family and their attorneys responded to the results. I stood in the pews of the church as Jayland’s mother, Pam Walker, entered towards the platform. As she walked down the aisle, I could see the pain on her face, the sadness in her eyes, the weight upon her shoulders. And as the press conference unfolded, my focus remained on her. I watched as she sat in tears, at times audibly overcome. This was too much for her. How could it not be so?

“As she exited the platform and was led back down the aisle, I noticed a difference. Her steps were heavier, her eyes laden, her strength abated. How has she endured such pain? I looked at her and thought of my own mother. My heart ached for her, and Jada (Jayland's sister), the entire Walker family, and our city. It was then that I was reminded of a passage of scripture: 'Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.' I knew it was an appeal for action. One that would call us to look and extend beyond ourselves, our experiences, and our own conceptions, to see the burdens upon our brothers, the yearnings of our youth, the plight of our people.

“From the streets today I watched as construction vehicles moved heavy barricades into place throughout downtown. And yet all I could think of was would we as a city come together to carry the burdens laid upon our brothers’ backs, those that are far heavier than concrete. These are the burdens of untold years of injustice, of lives lost, humanity devalued, dreams deferred, and voices unheard. Burdens that cannot be carried as long as we stand apart, wondering why those of us still under their weight continue to struggle.

“Some may ask what part do I have to play in this? This is not my fight. This is not my struggle. My answer is simple – because we are family. There is no Akron without all of us. No progress unless none of us are left behind. And no real sense of community unless members of every race, creed and color unite behind the righteous cause of justice, accountability, and truth.

“This is the time where we as a city must forge a new direction. There must be systemic change and reform in our law enforcement, one built upon trust, transparency, and accountability, and still ensuring the safety of our neighborhoods and communities. This is not the end of the process. The FBI will now look into the case, civil proceedings will move forward, and I sincerely thank Congresswoman Emilia Sykes for calling for the DOJ (Department of Justice) to investigate our methods of policing in order to enact much needed reforms and help move our city forward. But as we continue this journey, I humbly ask the question. Will we carry the burdens of our brothers and sisters? Our mothers? Fathers? Our sons and daughters? Will we bear one another’s burdens, those that have crippled our city, and conflicted our consciousness? The hope of Akron depends on our answer. I have decided it is a burden I will willingly carry. As long as it takes, and as far as the road before us.”

Shammas Malik

"Today, we learned that the grand jury will not issue indictments in the killing of Jayland Walker. But today’s decision does not mean what happened to Jayland was right. We can and should review all of the information being released by the Ohio Attorney General’s office, including evidence that Jayland fired a weapon during the chase. But I want to be clear - there can be no justification for the brutal amount of force in the video of Jayland’s last moments. What we have witnessed is a systemic failure that demands change from our police department. In Akron and across our country, true justice will only come when policies and culture are changed to ensure that Black residents are treated with the fairness and respect that is every person’s birthright. In Akron, we have a long way to go. I am committed to this work. I know our community is committed to this work. We must feel the urgency and take action. Today’s news reopens the wound inflicted on this community by Jayland’s killing. We must, individually and collectively, take time to process our feelings, to make our voices heard, to ensure peace in our community, and to demand change. Each one of us has power. Together, we can honor Jayland Walker’s life and his family’s grief by creating justice in our city."

Keith Mills

"I am sorry and my heart goes out to the Jayland Walker family. It is more than unfortunate that this type of thing keeps happening. From a father's perspective and a person in general, I am sad and disheartened for his complete family and for having to relive him being taken.

"Now, all of this goes deeper than just a statement made. Unfortunately, the African American community most likely isn't surprised by this decision nor am I. As this continues to happen again and again....we must continue to push and bring light to the fact that African Americans are being treated less than others in terms of policing in this case."

Tara Mosley

"The grand jury has deliberated and decided not to indict the officers who killed Jayland Walker. I understand that there are people in this city who will not trust that this decision is legitimate.
I believe that we should have done more to give people faith in the process. This would include more transparency from the government in the immediate wake of Walker’s killing. Also, we should not have prematurely boarded up and fortified the city, making it look more like a war zone than a place where jurors could peacefully deliberate, consider the evidence, and make a decision. Still, putting aside that we could have done more to avoid undermining trust in the grand jury’s decision, that decision is still limited. The grand jury may have concluded that there was not sufficient probable cause to charge the officers who killed Jayland Walker with a crime. But they did not, and could not, decide that it was just to kill Jayland Walker, or that it was wise or right to kill Jayland Walker, or whether the law should change to better protect people like Jayland Walker. Those decisions are not for the grand jury; they are for the people of Akron. And the people of Akron have made their decision exceedingly clear. They want an accountable police department that keeps the peace in such a way that keeps us all safe equally.

"Akronites made it clear that this was their decision at the ballot box when they overwhelmingly voted to create a Citizens’ Police Oversight Board. And they have made their decisions clear through protests— which are democratically legitimate and among the most effective ways to hold public officials accountable. Those protests will continue. So, I call on the protestors to remain vigilant against any
sort of property destruction or violence. This is our City, our community, and we will protest what threatens us while we protect what belongs to us. At the same time, I call on the Akron Police Department to avoid escalating tensions or antagonizing the protestors. If you work for the APD, your job is to protect and serve the people of Akron. That includes the protestors who are exercising their rights to express their legitimate grievances with policing in this city. It is imperative that both police and protestors stay non-violent. Only then do we give ourselves the best chance to heal our grieving city.

"Finally, we should never forget that there is a real family at the center of this tragedy—the Walker family. From the beginning, they have been nothing but gracious as their private pain has sparked public outcry. We should live up to their example. Our choices at this moment are creating Jayland Walker’s legacy. We would all benefit if we made that legacy one of progress, one of healing, one of solidarity, one of peace. Our city deserves as much. And so do the Walkers."

Josh Schaffer

"It's disturbing that officers shot almost a hundred times, even after the suspect was disabled, and will not be brought to justice. I would just say that people have the right to protest, and it must remain peaceful. We love our city, so it's counterproductive to destroy property whether private, nonprofit, or government. Our neighbors live, work and serve our community from those buildings. Out of control protestors will only fuel mistrust between the community and the police."

Marco Sommerville

"My heart goes out to the family and memory of Jayland Walker. I can’t know what the family is feeling right now. But I do know that community safety and police reform go together, and Akron needs both. We have a lot of work to do and we must be unified as we face the challenges ahead. We need our law enforcement members and our community members to commit to lasting change. This has been a big part of my life’s work. In the days, months and years ahead, that commitment will continue. My door is open and I ask that you join me in working peacefully for the Akron we all want."

Jeff Wilhite

"First and foremost, my prayers are with the Walker family on this difficult day. What they are going through is unimaginable and my hope is that as a community we can work together to prevent another tragedy like this in the future. I am committed to that work of making our city truly safe for all of our residents. I know that disappointment will be felt throughout the community today. As a community we must respect the call of the Walker family to gather in peace. Thank you to all of the community leaders and organizations such as 100 Black Men, Love Akron, NAACP, the Urban League and others who have held opportunities for the community to convene and discuss solutions for preventing this from happening in Akron again. Now is the time for all residents of the city to galvanize our collective efforts to make positive changes."

Andrew Meyer is the deputy editor of news at Ideastream Public Media.