Akron City Council met virtually due to "threats." That didn't stop residents from voicing concerns
Though Akron City Council met virtually Monday night, an array of speakers joined the Zoom call during the public comment period to call on the city to take action on police reform. A group of protesters livestreamed the meeting outside city hall.
Last week, a spokesperson for city council told Ideastream Public Media that bomb threats had been made toward the municipal building. That was reiterated during the meeting.
"The reason we didn't meet at city hall this evening was because of threats," Council Vice President Jeff Fusco said.
Akron Police Chief Steve Mylett was asked during a virtual news briefing Tuesday why the individuals gathering outside city hall had not been made aware of the safety concerns. Mylett and his staff were not aware of any threats to city hall, he said.
"I'm not sure where that information is coming from," he said.
Condolences and a resolution from council
Due to the Independence Day holiday, this was the first council meeting since news broke of the police shooting of Jayland Walker, who was killed after a car and foot chase June 27.
Council members individually expressed condolences over Walker’s death.
“I never thought that we would, in Akron, see this kind of activity,” At-Large Councilwoman Linda Omobien said. “I am deeply troubled by what I saw on the video, and I don’t know how we can ever justify that kind of activity.”
Council unanimously passed a resolution to designate Wednesday as a city-wide “day of mourning” out of respect for Walker’s funeral, which will be held at the Akron Civic Center at 1 p.m. The funeral is open to the public and all city parking decks will be free of charge, according to a press release.
The resolution also expresses sympathy to Walker's family and calls for peaceful demonstrations.
Calls for reform
Some council members criticized the police department’s response to subsequent protests. Akron community groups have called on police to stop using aggressive tactics on otherwise peaceful protesters.
Ward 8 Councilman Shammas Malik asked council to create a civilian review board to look into the police department’s culture and restore trust between the community and police.
“In the weeks and months ahead, we as a community are going to have to reckon with the killing of Jayland Walker. We’re going to have to figure out how to chart a path together,” Malik said. “Folks are heartbroken, they’re increasingly divided, they’re frustrated. Some are hopeless that real change will come, and I really, really believe that this time must be different.”
Council also discussed how they can advocate for changes in the police department’s policies and procedures.
“Something like this should never, ever happen again,” Omobien said.
According to police, officers pursued Walker after he failed to stop for a traffic violation. Walker eventually pulled over and fled on foot. Eight officers fatally shot him when he allegedly made a motion toward his waistband. Police said a shot was fired out of Walker’s car at some point during the car chase, but Walker was unarmed when he was killed. According to the medical examiner, his body had 60 wounds.
Walker was handcuffed when his body arrived at the medical examiner’s office, according to reports.
Omobien asked how council could work to pause police pursuits for traffic violations and the practice of handcuffing suspects after they have died.
“I want to give [Police Chief Steve Mylett] a little time, but if he could work with our law department and just tell us, what is the process we need to go through to stop those two practices right away, because they just don’t make any sense,” Omobien said.
Council will discuss courses of action for police reform at a committee meeting next week, Council President Margo Sommerville said.
Ward 4 Councilman Russ Neal added that council should consider using its next allocation of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to help invest in police reform measures.
Giving voice to concerns, virtually
Community members, including some who were part of a group rallying outside of city hall, joined the Zoom call to voice their concerns during the public comment period. Some residents, like Fran Wilson, called on police to stop using tear gas and pepper spray during protests.
“I should not have been teargassed three times by Akron Police for peacefully protesting. This is a legislative body. It is beyond time to legislate to abolish practices and codes that kill and dehumanize and brutalize our neighbors,” Wilson said.
Another resident, Heather Hillenbrand, asked for police to reconsider their policies.
“APD risked the lives of everyone who lives and works in Akron when they chase our neighbors through the street. What if a worker getting home from a late shift had been hit by a car?” Hillenbrand said. “One man lost his life, and that is too many, and we can never let this happen again. Akron City Council has the power to change the law, and if you don’t, we will vote you out next year.”
Many speakers called attention to a list of 12 demands that community groups have compiled and submitted to city officials, which include police reform measures and punishing the officers who shot Walker.
At the end of the meeting, Council Vice President Jeff Fusco said council has seen the demands.
“Please believe that we want to hear those voices to look to seek ways to improve policing in the city of Akron; however, we also need to respect those of us who work to keep the peace on our streets,” Fusco said.