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In their own words: Akron Decides survey respondents explain stances on protests, police

Protesters march through Downtown Akron.
Ryan Loew
Ideastream Public Media
Protesters march through Downtown Akron.

An Akron Decides survey after the May primary election gave citizens an opportunity to explain how they felt about the protests that followed a special grand jury's decision against prosecuting eight police officers who shot and killed Jayland Walker.

Those polled were also asked whether or not they approved of the police response to the protests.

In contrast to the weeks of tense protests last summer that followed Walker's June 27 death, the latest round of demonstrations has been largely peaceful aside from a confrontation two days after the no-bill was returned. A march along Copley Road in West Akron was dispersed with tear gas after law enforcement officials said protesters had begun hurling objects at them.

Overall, 50% of survey respondents either strongly or somewhat approved of the protests following the grand jury's no-bill decision, while 23% strongly or somewhat disapproved of the protests following the grand jury decision.

Here is a sampling of reasons respondents gave for why they support or oppose the protests and authorities' response.

Protest backers say justice remains elusive

For those respondents who approved of the protests, 47% believed justice was not served.

One respondent commented, "a man was shot in excess of 40 times and no charges were filed. This is excessive force."

Another respondent said Akron police "have a documented history of violence against people of color" and the lack of charges against those who killed Walker means "no justice for the deceased."

"There's never a reason to shoot a person as much as those cops shot Jayland," another respondent said. And while it is up to the legal process to determine whether a killing meets the legal definition of murder, the commenter did not hesitate to render judgment: "Murder is murder no matter how you try to justify it."

The trail of evidence showing Walker fired a gun while police pursued him in a car chase was unconvincing for a respondent who said "it is not acceptable to shoot and kill a Black man who was not at all a serious threat to the large group of armed and legally protected police officers or to the community."

The right to protest was cited by several respondents.

"As long as (the protests) remain peaceful, they have that right," one noted.

Another said, "I always feel people have the right to express their opinions by protesting what they believe in."

Opponents of protests say safety is at risk

Of those individuals who disapproved of the protests, 43% believed that protests lead to violence.

One respondent noted how protesters "don't protest peacefully, they destroy hard working peoples' businesses."

"Destroying the city is not the solution," another person said.

"Protest just causes more destruction and damage to the city and its citizens," another respondent said.

To be clear, protests this spring have barely resembled those that cropped up last summer, when dozens of protesters were arrested and widespread damage was reported downtown. The latest demonstrations still rattled some residents, though.

"(The protesters) did it in a very disruptive way within neighborhoods, blocking traffic, screaming in a loud speaker late at night while kids and elderly were sleeping," one respondent said.

Among those who disapprove of the protests, several said the grand jury's outcome should be accepted by all.

"A grand jury made the ruling after a thorough investigation," one respondent said.

"An independent agency gathered facts and produced an extensive report. Most protesters do not have accurate and factual information," another individual said.

"I know that the hearings for officer involved shootings are usually thorough and fair. I trust the findings," another individual noted.

Here's why some residents say police should step in at protests

Overall, 34% of survey respondents strongly or somewhat approved of the police response to the protests, while 29% strongly or somewhat disapproved of the police response.

Among those individuals who approved of the police tactics, some said they do mostly because of the need to protect the public. And some made derogatory claims about demonstrators.

"Businesses and personal safety needed to be protected from racist mobs," one respondent said.

"(Police) should be able to protect the citizens from the rowdy protesters," another said.

"Some of those protesters were outsiders paid to disrupt," yet another respondent said.

The importance of preventing damage and violence was a popular reason for approving of the police response to protests.

"The protests have been aggressive and have been illegally obstructing traffic with parked cars. The protesters are throwing things at officers and emergency vehicles can't get through," one respondent said. "Given the emotional climate, the city had to be prepared for opportunistic violence," another person noted.

"I saw what happened to businesses downtown last summer and I think being proactive is better than reactive," one respondent noted. "If I had a business that was vandalized last summer, I would want proactive policing."

Did police overreact to protests? Some respondents believe so

The use of force by Akron police was the top reason respondents gave for disapproving the police response to the protests.

"Armed preparations and responses to protests only lead to more violence and are conducive to the protest process," one respondent said. Again, the range of survey responses includes some disparaging claims.

"Police have been needlessly violent and [antagonistic] at protests regardless of the behavior of the protesters," one respondent said. "They use chemical weapons like tear gas liberally in crowded public spaces, which affects not only protesters who gave them no legitimate reason to engage in such a severe and violent response, but also residents who happened to be in the area."

"Police always overreact and use excessive force," another individual said.

Some respondents said Akron police abused their authority while responding to the recent grand jury protests.

"They made things worse. Things were peaceful until they intervened," one respondent said.

Another respondent said "there was absolutely no reason for police to tear gas the protesters. That was over-the-top ridiculous!"

"Police appeared to have been a bit aggressive in their tactics," another person said.

About the poll

The Akron Decides Post-Election Survey of 500 voters, conducted by the Center for Marketing and Opinion Research, was commissioned by the Akron Press Club, Bliss Institute at the University of Akron, Akron NAACP, Ohio Debate Commission and Akron Beacon Journal.

The poll had a margin of error of 4.4%.

Registered voters were surveyed May 4 through May 17 online and over the phone, including landlines and cellphones.

Reporter Anthony Thompson can be reached at ajthompson@gannett.com, or on Twitter @athompsonABJ.