© 2021 WKSU
Public Radio News for Northeast Ohio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan Says Calming Community Unrest Begins with Listening

A photo of the City of Akron.
Akron joined cities around the country in protesting the death of George Floyd, a black man killed in Minneapolis by a white officer who knelt on his neck.

Akron was among cities around the country where people gathered Saturday to protest the killing of George Floyd,  a black man in Minneapolis. The white officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck is now charged with third degree murder and manslaughter.

As they have elsewhere, the protests in Akron turned violent, with protestors shattering windows in buildings and city vehicles, and throwing rocks. Akron Police fired tear gas to disperse the crowds.

Mayor Dan Horrigan talked about how the city will work to resolve community unrest.

DAN HORRIGAN: It's a lot of listening. And I know people are getting tired of that. But I think one of the keys of leadership is being able to listen. And I think that's the strength of this community is that we do listen to each other.

And you hear a lot of painful stories. And those are, you can't say it's unfortunate, because it is, but they want to be able to tell you those [stories] and how we can change things for the better. Ninety-nine percent of it was peaceful and civil. You hear a lot of pain and anger.

But also, I think they were appreciative of that ear to do that, too. Because you know, we don't claim to be perfect or know everything. And if we need to change and if we need to make a significant difference in people's lives, you know, I've always believed that, government could be a force of good and as an institution, we need to do that.

This is not the time for a study. I'm always in for better data, but we know what the issues are and we know how to address them and there are plans out there. So it's in a systemic way of how we get more diverse as a city? We create more economic opportunity, more educational opportunity, but also address those institutions. What are the transparency parts of it? I mean, how are we holding ourselves accountable? Because I do have a high standard. And I like my staff and the leaders in those positions to have high standards also. And we do and so we're making that progress towards that point.

But, you know, obviously, I think this weekend showed we're not immune. It isn't localized just in Akron. It is across the country, and it's probably even spread, maybe even across the world. And so, those are messages, you know, I mean, and you have to be, you can't have a tin ear out there and say, well, we can't hear that stuff. Yes, we can. 

JENNIFER CONN: What is your sense for going forward, for seeing more of this type of demonstration?

DAN HORRIGAN: Well, obviously, you know, they absolutely have that right to be able to do that and we will address those concerns and meet with them, whenever and wherever. And I think I've proved that over the last 20 years; whether it's in a household or a business or my own town halls, keeping people informed about what we're doing, and you measure yourself against, you know, some of the things that are out there.

So we'll obviously take those things that we heard, and try to action them, but also we'll get input to saying, ‘Hey, listen, you know, the ideas aren't necessarily mine. What do you want to see us do?' You know what makes the public safety initiative, what makes the mayor's office, what makes everything more accountable to you, and what do you want to see done?

And there's some very specific things that I think we're going to hopefully be able to do, you know, as we give some thought to it, you know, in a very short time frame, and then make some of those changes that we need to make. Also, I think it's tell our story better too. And that's not bragging.

Ken Ball and Dan Horrigan at December 20th news conference
Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan, left, stands with Akron Police Chief Ken Ball in this WKSU file photo.

One gentleman wanted to say, 'Hey, listen, how come a police officer doesn't have to spend two years in training?' I said, well, it's 18 months. We just kicked it up by 18 months and part of that is contractual, but you know, you're on probation and six months in training. So we think that is pretty significant. And that's from the thoughtful leadership in the Akron Police Department to recognize that, you know, we need a well-trained, well equipped public safety department and more training is always better, and how you deal with not just that, but how we deal with policing in America.

JENNIFER CONN: Is there anything you would want the public to know that you think is important about this situation?

DAN HORRIGAN: Well, I want to give a lot of credit to the organizers and the people that were down there doing what we absolutely protect that right to do. And we do appreciate that more than they think, and we want to hear their voices because we are accountable to them.

So if that message is not gotten out there as clear enough, you know, we appreciate them doing that in a civil and peaceful way and letting them know how we feel. Not everybody is out there with the best intentions and it's just natural. You see it across the country. And so you know, we want to protect them just as much as they want to protect that grievance that they have. I don't want people co-opting that grievance further, you know, for mayhem or for you know, because they want to cause chaos. That doesn't do anybody any good either.