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Akron Protest Organizer Calls for Peaceful Demonstrations and Police Reform

A photo of protesters in downtown Akron
Protesters gather in downtown Akron calling for police and justice reform.

Around 1,000 people took to the streets in Downtown Akron over the weekend to protest the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The organizer of Saturday’s peaceful protest was Ryan Stull, a 30-year-old father of two from Akron.

He said the protest he planned was over well before incidents of property damage and clashes with Akron police. He tells WKSU the protest meant to inspire justice reform and changes for how police are vetted and trained.

Stull wants every officer to be held accountable for his or her actions, just like a civilian.

"Also universalizing police training across the board, not even just in states, but across the nation, would be a huge improvement," he said. 

Lengths of police training differ from department to department, but Stull said it should be standardized like training for medical professionals.

"If you're going to school to become a doctor, you have to take so much schooling in order to learn how to save lives. It should be the same to protect lives."

What do Akron city officials say?
"In terms of government officials, I haven’t actually had a discussion with any. I would love to," Stull said. 

He said he spoke with Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan at the protest. At the time the mayor was receptive to talking with him in the future.

Stull said Akron officials are saying the right things, but it’s about far more than just words.

"I think the problem is the people don't see what they're saying. So they're saying they're trying these things and that they're working towards this, but the people aren't seeing that. I think that’s the problem is people need to be able to see this action taking place. People need to see officers held accountable."

He also said people need to see more engagement with the community from the police.

Instead of being ready in riot gear when protestors arrived, Stull said the police could have marched with protesters or taken a knee in solidarity.

"I think that would have symbolized a lot to the people."

Stull says his protest was peaceful
After hours of peaceful demonstration, there were reports of vandalism, property damage and Akron police firing teargas at people assembled downtown.

Stull is quick to denounce vandalism, saying it's not his form of protest. He compared people causing property damage to "wolves in sheep's clothing" hiding among the crowd.

"The majority of peaceful protestors will only protest during the day, because they know at night is when problems arise."

Will there be more protests?
Stull said there will be another protest for justice and police reform in Akron at some point, but he doesn’t know when.

"I want to give the people in office some time to go over what was said and give them time to reach out to not only to just me but other organizers as well and other people in the community. And just kind of hear us out…  We’ll continually do this until someone finally steps up to the plate to do this and makes the change happen."

Mark Arehart joined the award-winning WKSU news team as its arts/culture reporter in 2017. Before coming to Northeast Ohio, Arehart hosted Morning Edition and covered the arts scene for Delaware Public Media. He previously worked for KNKX in Seattle, Kansas Public Radio, and KYUK in Bethel, Alaska.