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Akron community leaders lash out at Akron P.D. on "aggressive" force at peaceful Walker protests

Rev. Ray Greene Jr. reads a list of demands for the Akron Police in a press conference Thursday, July 7, 2022. Several activist organizations are speaking out about alleged "aggressive" tactics used by police on people protesting the death of Jayland Walker.
Anna Huntsman
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Ideastream Public Media
Rev. Ray Greene Jr. reads a list of demands for the Akron Police in a press conference Thursday, July 7, 2022. Several activist organizations are speaking out about alleged "aggressive" tactics used by police on people protesting the death of Jayland Walker. One of those demands was a civilian oversight board which is now a proposed ballot initiative.

As protests continue over the police killing of 25-year-old Jayland Walker, several organizations are speaking out about the Akron Police Department’s response to the demonstrations.

Leaders from several community organizations said officers are allegedly using aggressive tactics to disperse those who are peacefully protesting - from tear gas, to riot shields, to physical force.

“We have seen militarized SWAT vehicles, and just the aggression in how they're even presenting themselves to the community," said Dee McCall, a local activist who has participated in the ongoing protests. "It doesn't seem as though they're trying to protect and serve the community. It seems as though they are waging war against the community."

McCall is a member of Freedom BLOC, a local civic engagement group.

Freedom BLOC and several other activist groups held a press conference Thursday to announce a list of demands for police reform that they’ve sent city officials and police.

Ben Gifford (left) of the Akron Democratic Socialists of America speaks during a press conference on Thursday, July 7, 2022. Gifford and Dee McCall (right) shared their experiences during protests over the death of Jayland Walker, who was shot and killed by Akron Police. Gifford and McCall say police are using aggression against peaceful protesters.
Anna Huntsman
/
Ideastream Public Media
Ben Gifford (left) of the Akron Democratic Socialists of America speaks during a press conference on Thursday, July 7, 2022. Gifford and Dee McCall (right) shared their experiences during protests over the death of Jayland Walker, who was shot and killed by Akron Police. Gifford and McCall say police are using aggression against peaceful protesters.

“The local police have waged war on peaceful protesters and innocent neighbors. It is the police that have escalated at every step,” organizers said in the statement.

In the document, organizers ask police to stop using tear gas and rubber bullets. They also call for the remaining jailed protesters to be released and their records expunged.

At the top of the list is a request for the city to release the names of the eight officers who shot Walker - and to fire and then prosecute them.

Other demands include ending police chases, traffic stops for traffic violations and curfews. They also ask for an independent investigation of the shooting.

Rev. Ray Greene Jr., Freedom BLOC’s executive director, said the document is in response to local U.S. Department of Justice officials that have asked his organization to negotiate protest rules with police.

The department told NPR that members of its Community Relations Service, who work with community stakeholders to reduce racial tensions and support protests, have been on the ground in Akron.

“Our response to that is we have already negotiated how we will act based off the Constitution. The Constitution gives us the legal right to nonviolent civil disobedience, and [police] have disrespected the Constitution,” Greene said.

Over the weekend, Akron Police arrested 49 protesters. Of those, 30 people were released on signature bonds, Dee McCall said at the press conference. Freedom BLOC and Serve the People Akron raised more than $3,000 to bail out 13 others, McCall added.

Tallmadge resident Jay Boden was released Tuesday on signature bond. Boden said he had been protesting peacefully Sunday night and was arrested while attempting to walk back to his car.

“And that’s when they started tackling people. I had two officers hit me with the riot shields. And then I went down to the ground I curled up in a ball, I was protecting my head and face, and they started hitting me with the batons and stuff like that,” Boden said.

Boden has diabetes and said police did not provide him insulin for an extended period of time while he was in the Summit County Jail, despite him asking multiple times. Summit County officials did not respond to Ideastream Public Media’s request for comment about the situation.

Boden and son
Jay Boden
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Jay Boden (right) of Tallmadge holds his one-year-old son. Boden was arrested in Akron over the weekend during protests over the death of Jayland Walker.

Boden missed his son’s first birthday due to his arrest, he said.

“I don’t regret anything, because it was all for a good cause, however, missing my son’s first birthday is the only thing I do regret,” he said. “I ended up spending the day in jail instead.”

City officials did not respond to Ideastream Public Media’s request for comment. However, Mayor Dan Horrigan previously said in a statement that only violent protesters were arrested, and the majority are peaceful.

The activists at the press conference invited the mayor and other city officials to meet with them for a dialogue, but so far, they said they have not gotten a response.

Freedom BLOC had also planned a rally ahead of Monday’s city council meeting to share their demands with councilmembers, but council announced Thursday the meeting will be held virtually due to safety concerns.

A spokeswoman for city council told Ideastream Public Media the municipal office has received bomb threats.

Freedom BLOC will still be at council in person despite the remote meeting, Greene said.

“They do not want to face the people they represent. This is the leadership that only cares about rich people and only cares about [themselves,] and this is despicable that we can’t have a public meeting with the public officials we elected. They refuse to look us in the eye. This is sickening,” Greene said.

Anna Huntsman covers Akron and Canton for Ideastream Public Media.