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“The Cut” is a weekly reporters notebook-type essay by an Ideastream Public Media content creator, reflecting on the news and on life in Northeast Ohio. What exactly does “The Cut” mean? It's a throwback to the old days of using a razor blade to cut analog tape. In radio lingo, we refer to sound bites as “cuts.” So think of these behind-the-scene essays as “cuts” from Ideastream's producers.

Chronicling a community's pain, and calls for change, in the year since Jayland Walker's death

 Hundreds of protesters, including local and national activists, marched in Downtown Akron.
Ryan Loew
Ideastream Public Media
Hundreds of protesters, including local and national activists, march in Downtown Akron.

Tuesday marked one year since Akron police officers fatally shot Jayland Walker, a 25-year-old Black man, after a car-and-foot chase. Walker fired a gun from his car during the police chase but was unarmed when he was killed.

I remember when I first heard about the shooting. I’d only been on the Akron beat for a little more than a month. My day-to-day schedule, at that time, consisted of attending council meetings and handing out my business cards to anyone who would take them — the necessary grunt work of starting a new beat in a new city.

On June 27, 2022, everything changed.

In the days after, we began to learn more about what had transpired that night. I remember reading preliminary reports that officers had fired more than 90 shots. That was later confirmed by the state’s investigation into the shooting this year.

The greater Akron community was shocked, and news of the shooting garnered both national and global attention.

Suddenly, my schedule became filled with covering protests, press conferences and reporting multiple stories per day. I listened as protesters, many of them friends or family members of Walker, cried out in front of the city’s police headquarters in Downtown Akron, demanding justice for his death.

At Walker’s funeral, I heard his family members describe him as a kind, gentle person who never left without telling people he loved them. And I heard stories from attendees of how Walker reminded them of young people in their own lives, and how they feared what would happen if those young people ever encountered the police.

From police, we did not hear much. The names of the officers involved in the shooting were not released. A state investigation was underway.

It was a tumultuous, transformative time in Akron. The ripples of this watershed moment are still being felt a year later.

There have been some waves of change. In August last year, protests had died down, but demands for police reform were still prevalent. Among the demands was a civilian police oversight board, a panel of citizens who would review and even investigate complaints made against Akron police.

I watched as citizens took it upon themselves to try to make that happen.

Members of activist groups mobilized a grassroots effort to collect more than 7,000 signatures on a petition to put a review board on the November election ballot.

Then, I watched on election night asvoters ended up approving that ballot measure with 63% of the vote.

Reform efforts continued to flow into 2023, when the nine-member oversight board was seated after a bit of a rocky start. When the initial slate of nominees was presented, city council members were divided over one candidate – a 27-year-old Black attorney, Imokhai Okolo.

I sat in council chambers as council members voted numerous times up until midnight to try to meet the deadline for approval, but they ultimately failed to reach a supermajority. After swapping out Okolo for another candidate, council eventually approved the full slate.

Now, I cover the board's meetings every week. Members are currently deciding how they will conduct investigations into police misconduct.

The board was seated in March. In April, waters became rough again.

The community had been waiting for nine months to see if any of the eight officers who fatally shot Walker would face criminal charges. On April 19, they got an answer: no. A Summit County grand jurydeclined to indict any of the officers.

As expected, protests broke out again — this time, across the city. Tensions were heightened by the police department’s controversial response to demonstrations. In several gatherings, police deployed tear gas on both protesters and members of the media.

Now, fast forward to this week. To mark the anniversary of Walker’s death, activists have turned their attention nationwide. They traveled to Washington, D.C. to ask the U.S. Department of Justice to open an investigation into the patterns and practices of the police department. They say Jayland Walker’s death is only the tip of the iceberg, and that the department has engaged in racist tactics for decades.

One year after Walker’s death, conversations about racial injustice in Akron are still at the forefront. It was a main talking point in the mayor’s race, and something the city's presumptive next mayor, Shammas Malik, continues to discuss as he prepares to take office next year.

The city now has a civilian oversight board, and citizens attend the meetings every week to talk about change they want to see.

In a recent oversight board meeting, Akron Police Chief Steve Mylett told members that he plans to change the department’s police pursuit policy soon — something activists have been calling for since Walker was shot after a chase.

As I think back on the past year, as a reporter, I’ve learned so much about covering policing, social justice and local government. But as an Akron resident myself, I’ve learned so much more.

I’ve learned that Akron is more tightly-knit than you might expect of the fifth-largest city in Ohio. It’s also incredibly resilient. And if citizens want change — whether that’s police reform, or any other various issues across the city — they’re going to fight hard for it.

Who knows what will happen over the course of this next year? I’m certain that these conversations and calls for change aren’t going away any time soon.

And I’ll be sure to cover them.

"The Cut" is featured in Ideastream Public Media's weekly newsletter, The Frequency Week in Review. To get The Frequency Week in Review, The Daily Frequency or any of our newsletters, sign up on Ideastream's newsletter subscription page.

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