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A year after Jayland Walker's death, Akron has seen changes - but not enough, activists say

Ray Greene Jr., executive director of The Freedom BLOC, speaks to demonstrators outside the Harold K. Stubbs Justice Center in downtown Akron during a September 2022 protest.
Ryan Loew
Ideastream Public Media
Ray Greene Jr., executive director of The Freedom BLOC, speaks to demonstrators outside the Harold K. Stubbs Justice Center in downtown Akron on Wednesday.

Tuesday, June 27, marks one year since Akron police fatally shot Jayland Walker, a 25-year-old Black man, after a car and foot chase. According to a state investigation, Walker shot a gun during the chase - but was unarmed when officers fired 94 shots at him.

The shooting sparked protests and calls for police reform.

One year later, some of those demands have been realized, while others have not yet come to fruition, said Ray Greene Jr., director of activist group The Freedom BLOC.

“We have built a foundation to make change in the city, and [we’re] still not far enough along,” Greene said, “I’m encouraged by the foundation that we’re building, but I’m still disappointed in the lack of progress that we have made.”

Many Akron residents have come together over the past year in the calls for justice and reform, which Greene said is encouraging in itself. However, he’s not satisfied that the eight officers who shot Walker are still employed by the department, he said.

In April,a grand jury declined to indict the officerson criminal charges, and they now work for the department on administrative duty.

Despite the ruling, Greene and other activists still want the officers to be fired.

“Right is right, wrong is wrong. They shot a man, at a man, that was unarmed, almost 100 times,” Greene said. “They do not need to be in our community [anymore].”

One demand that has come to fruition, he said, is the Citizens’ Police Oversight Board.

In the months after the shooting,citizens gathered thousands of signatures on a petition to put a charter amendment on the ballot in November to create a review board. Voters approved it by 63%.

The Citizens’ Police Oversight Board was seated in March and holds meetings every week. Members are currently writing the board’s rules and procedures and planning community outreach events.

The city's presumptive next mayor, Shammas Malik, advocated strongly for the board during his time as a city councilmember.

Walker's death was a "transformative event" for the city, Malik said.

“We’ve seen some successes,” Malik said, pointing to the passage and implementation of the oversight board, “but we’ve also seen that that change is not happening at a pace that people want to see.”

There is no Republican or independent on the ballot for the general election, so Malik, who decidedly won the contested Democratic primary, is in line to become mayor in January.

That means activists like Greene will turn to him to implement some of the changes they continue to call for.

As he reflects on Walker’s death, Malik said his top priority is for Akron officers to have more time to restore trust with residents.

“We have to move from a department that is more reactive to more proactive,” he said. “We have 450 officers; we have over 200 patrol officers. Those officers need to have some time in their days, and weeks and months, to be able to spend doing real community policing work: foot patrols, building trust, building relationships.”

Greene said he’s encouraged by Malik’s ideas to address policing in Akron.

Greene is also encouraged, he said, that Police Chief Steve Mylett recently said he plans to change the department’s police chase policy.

Police pursued Walker after he didn’t pull over for a broken taillight. Since then, activists have argued a chase over a traffic violation shouldn’t have happened in the first place.

“It’s not going to go as far as I believe it should go, probably, but we're having those conversations,” Greene added.

Mylett plans to change the policy by the end of June.

To mark the anniversary of Walker’s death, Greene, other activists and members of Walker’s family are traveling to Washington D.C. overnight.

Tuesday afternoon, they’re holding a rally at the the U.S. Department of Justice to call for an investigation into the Akron Police Department.

Attendees will depart from the First Congregational Church in Akron at midnight.

Ideastream Public Media reached out to the office of current Mayor Dan Horrigan for his thoughts but did not get a response.

Anna Huntsman covers Akron, Canton and surrounding communities for Ideastream Public Media.