AKRON, Ohio — About 100 people associated with the Freedom Bloc, Big Love Network and other local groups sat or stood in a closed-off street section of High Street, outside Akron City Hall Monday night, as City Council listened to public comments virtually.
Many of those signed up to speak are signed up to comment on the shooting death by Akron police of Jayland Walker in late June.
Officials said Walker was killed by police after the 25-year-old Black man led officers on a car and foot chase, finally stepping from his vehicle in a parking lot wearing a ski mask. Police said Walker made a movement that was perceived as a threat and the eight officers opened fire.
The Ohio Attorney General’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation is leading the investigation into the shooting.
In light of the civil unrest across the city since the shooting, City Council cancelled this week’s in-person meeting. Instead, council requested those who wish to speak sign up online to comment virtually.
High Street in the heart of the city has been closed off for several days, with the block containing City Hall, the Municipal Courthouse and the police department closed off by large city trucks at each end.
Protests have taken place every day since July 3, with some becoming violent. The Municipal Courthouse is closed for the foreseeable future, the city said in a release.
Rev. Ray Greene Jr. of the Freedom Bloc addressed the crowd and said the police must go. He emphasized the importance of community and the necessity of leaving ego behind.
“I believe in us. We’re going to change the dynamic of our city,” he said. “I see the power structure shivering and we just marched down the street!”
The Freedom Bloc, in partnership with the Akron chapter of Democratic Socialists of America, Serve the People Akron, last week set forth a series of 12 demands they wish the city to meet.
Among the demands are disarm and demilitarize all local police entities and forces; abolish the deployment of tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets; and release the names of the eight officers who fired on Walker.
The groups, which sent a certified letter to Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan over the weekend, said until their demands are met, the protests will continue.
The city has not met with the groups yet.
During the city’s first daily briefing Monday, in which the city will update the community on activity surrounding the Walker shooting, Horrigan said he had prepared a response to Freedom Bloc.
“I am certainly willing to meet with any group to talk about some of their concerns, but not going to unilaterally agree to demands before a meeting,” he said.
Horrigan and Police Chief Steve Mylett have said the city will not release the names of the officers per the department policy, and because and the officers have received threats.
The protesters were peaceful, standing in groups talking and holding Black Lives Matter and Justice for Jayland Walker signs. Some sat on folding chairs listening as audio of the City Council meeting could be heard in the background.
Beth Vild of Big Love network said the protesters will stay until the city’s 11 p.m. curfew and remain peaceful.
City Council President Margo Sommerville, Council Vice President Jeff Fusco and Council Pro Tem Mike Freeman issued a statement Saturday calling for a City-Wide Day of Mourning for Walker.
“As a city, we need time to process and express grief and heal,” the statement reads. “A City-Wide Day of Mourning will be an excellent beginning. But healing takes time and tangible actions. With that in mind, we have begun planning to host gatherings during which the community can come together and do just that!!”
The Walker family held a press conference earlier Monday proving details of the funeral, which will be held at 1 p.m. Wednesday July 13 at the Akron Civic Theatre in downtown Akron. The funeral will follow a public viewing planned to begin at 10 a.m. that day.
A unity gathering is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 12 at the Remedy Church, 1700 Brittain Road in Akron, the family said.