Akron residents address recent violence during forum with police, mayor

Published: Sep. 10, 2022 at 2:58 PM EDT
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AKRON, Ohio (WOIO) - A candid conversation between Akron Police and the community took place Saturday in an effort to bridge the divide between cops and the community.

Akron Police Chief Steve Mylett told the crowd of about 100 city residents, “We have the largest part and portion of the bridge to build, the police officers do in my humble opinion. But we can’t build it by ourselves.”

Akron Mayor Daniel Horrigan was also part of the panel along with Black community leaders like Michael Irby, the President of 100 Black Men of Akron, Judi Hill, the President of the NAACP, Edward Smith, the Executive Director of S.W.A.G., a Bishop and about six church pastors.

The three hour long forum at the Burning Bush Church comes on the heels of three police shootings, including the deadly shooting of Jayland Walker by Akron Police after an attempted traffic stop and pursuit.

The Walker case remains under investigation by Ohio’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation, and will be followed by an internal investigation.

But his death sparked protests and unrest in the city, as the community waits for the outcome of the investigation.

Pastor DeJuan Kelker of the Burning Bush Church said, “Today, we’re attempting to go from awareness to action. We’ve done this before and the reason we’re doing it again is because we believe that people have a lot of questions that need to be answered. People are hurting, the community is hurting and today, my goal is to at least have the Black community and the Akron Police Department leave with a better understanding of each other.”

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Vincent Taylor of Akron was in the audience and told the police chief, “You assured me that Akron was different than Minneapolis, and other cities, and that you would give account to every bullet that our officers shoot. I want to know what happened to the 90 bullets that have gone through the guns towards Jayland Walker?”

Mylett replied, “Every bullet that was fired will be in account for.”

Mylett and Horrigan said they can’t answer many of questions about the Walker case because it remains under investigation, but they told the crowd they want to be as transparent as possible.

Another man in the audience also directed his question to the chief, “We recently heard a report about officers in the Jayland Walker shooting yelling ‘go blue’ after he [Jayland Walker] was shot. And the narrative in the community for some is that they [police] were celebrating him being shot. Can you speak to that?”

Mylett responded, “There’s two colors that appear on the body camera itself, red and blue. Red means you’re recording, blue means the audio is off. So, when they said ‘go blue’ it wasn’t celebratory. They did not want to be in that situation. When they say ‘go blue’ means go to audio turned off.”

The chief said the officers’ policy manual allows that.

One officer explained that if they are talking as a witness you would not want everything you say broadcast, and he gave the example that news outlets will request the body worn camera video and then what they say could be broadcast publicly.

Among the other issues addressed: de-escalation and parenting.

One church pastor said the community needs to be better about parenting and mentoring if we want real change in the community, especially with the proliferation of guns.

Church Pastor Mike Murphy who said he finds himself in a difficult position because Jayland Walker’s dad was his close friend, and his son is a police officer, but he reminded the community that behind the uniform is a human being.

Hill with the NAACP said the only way the community can heal is to support the proposed Citizens Police Oversight Board and do their part to see change.

“It’s all about building relationships. People always see it as an us against them, and it’s not. It’s about all of us because truth be told I don’t know anyone who doesn’t need police to protect them,” Hill said.