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Akron groups march Downtown to call for justice for Jayland Walker, investigation of Akron police

Judi Hill, president of the Akron NAACP, marched alongside other demonstrators in Downtown Akron on Wednesday, May 24, 2023.
Ryan Loew
Ideastream Public Media
Judi Hill, president of the Akron NAACP, marched alongside other demonstrators in Downtown Akron on Wednesday, May 24, 2023.

Hundreds of protesters, including local and national activists, marched in Downtown Akron Wednesday afternoon to protest a grand jury’s decision last month not to indict the eight officers who fatally shot Jayland Walker, a 25-year-old Black man.

The demonstration began at First Congregational Church on East Market Street at 3 p.m. and concluded at the John F. Seiberling Federal Building on Main Street. Along the way, marchers stopped on High Street in front of the Akron Municipal Building, where city employees work, and the Harold K. Stubbs Justice Center, the police headquarters.

They heard from an array of speakers, including Pamela Walker, Jayland’s mother, who gave remarks in front of the federal building.

Through tears, Walker said she is heartbroken over how many times Walker was shot. Eight officers shot 94 times and 46 bullets wounded or grazed Walker, according to documents from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation.

“As a retired nurse, I understand where every bullet struck my son, the unimaginable pain inflicted upon him as well. His body was mutilated by gunfire, and even though he was clearly dead, he was handcuffed,” Walker said.

Walker said the special prosecutors who presented the case to the grand jury had told her initially they thought there was at least a 51% chance that one of the officers would be indicted “because this was a very bad case and so many bullets were fired,” Walker said.

“Yet today, there’s no indictment. Not one officer was reprimanded,” Walker said.

Marchers also heard from Akron's presumptive next mayor, Shammas Malik, in front of city hall.

Malik gave his condolences to the Walker family and said systemic change is needed in Akron.

“I spent the election talking about how we need systemic change in policy, practice and culture in our police department, our police department that we fund and employ. That change is coming,” Malik said.

Several members of the city's new Citizens' Police Oversight Board took part in the march, including Brandyn Costa, a local attorney. The board, created by a charter amendment approved by voters last November, was in response to Walker’s death and was seated in March.

Costa spoke to the crowd in front of the police headquarters. He said since the board was seated, members have heard “countless” concerns from residents about the police department.

“[We're hearing] Their fears of police retaliation, complaints, targeted disappearances and so on,” Costa said. “These citizens are exhausted of their concerns being swept under the rug, so I’m here to say that we’re hearing you.”

Costa encouraged the marchers to attend the board’s weekly meetings and continue sharing their concerns.

Featured speakers also included Bobby DiCello and other members of the Walker family’s legal team; Freedom BLOC executive director Ray Greene Jr.; Michael Brown Sr., father of Michael Brown, who was fatally shot by police in Ferguson, Missouri, and Marquetta Williams, wife ofJames Williams, who was fatally shot by a Canton police officer in 2022.

DiCello read a list of demands the Walker family is asking for, including that a transcript of the grand jury proceedings be made available to the public.

They’re also pushing for “Jayland’s Law,” DiCello said.

“It will make it unlawful for officers to chase and pursue anyone involved in fleeing from a traffic stop,” he said.

It would also require police vehicles to be equipped with dashcams and for officers to turn on their body-worn cameras for their entire shift. He did not say whether such policy is being pushed for at the local, statewide or national level.

Activists are also calling for the U.S. Department of Justice to open an investigation into the patterns and practices of the Akron Police Department. U.S. Rep. Emilia Strong Sykes, whose district includes Akron, has also asked for a federal investigation.

Last month, a special grand jury declined to indict the eight officers who fired nearly 100 shots at Walker after a car and foot chase.

Protests occurred in Akron in the days following the decision but have since quelled. This was the first large demonstration planned since a similar march April 18 that began at the church and concluded at the federal building.

Protesters have criticized the Akron Police Department’s response to some of demonstrations. A lawsuit over its controversial use of tear gasand chemical spray during a protest on Copley Road April 19 resulted in a temporary injunction from a federal court, barring police from using non-lethal force against non-violent protesters.

Wednesday’s march was organized by The Freedom BLOC, St. Ashworth Temple, Akron NAACP, Akron Urban League and Ohio Families Unite Against Police Brutality.

Updated: May 24, 2023 at 7:53 PM EDT
This story has been updated.
Anna Huntsman covers Akron, Canton and surrounding communities for Ideastream Public Media.