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Canton City councilman says police issue is about respect, not race

James Williams Robert Huber protesters cropped
Abigail Bottar
/
Ideastream Public Media
Protesters outside of the Stark County Office building speak out against a grand jury's decision not to indict Officer Robert Huber in the shooting death of James Williams.

Three Canton City councilmembers walked out of this week’s meeting in solidarity with protestors calling for police reform. The protestors are upset over a grand jury’s decision not to indict a white police officer in the shooting death of a Black man. But for one councilmember the issue is about respect, not race.

Councilman Kevin Hall said he walked out in protest over an incident he witnessed last month where an officer was aggressive toward a community member. He thinks police can be too aggressive, but he does not agree with those who believe the death of James Williams was racially motivated.

“Even in the community we can’t have people hating police," Hall said, "but we also can’t have police disrespecting the resident and the constituents.”

He is calling for reforms to police training.

“You know our officers cannot get out their car aggressive," Hall said. "I know their job pertains to them being aggressive at times, but their first move should not be an aggressive move, especially over simple situations like I experienced at Harmont Park.”

Hall said his experience witnessing police aggression was echoed by community members who spoke during the public comment period of last night's meeting about their experience being harassed by police while protesting.

"You know everything has two sides," Hall said, "but if even half of it was true, some of the comments that people were speaking in public speech last night, it just brewed up more that it was - I mean something has got to be done to at least start the conversation to build better relationships between the community."

Officer Robert Huber shot and killed Williams on New Years Day, while Williams was firing his AK-15 in the air in his own backyard. Williams' family claims that Huber did not announce himself before firing and that the shooting was racially motivated.

"Something went wrong, and then to say that he was trained properly, if he was trained properly, then we need to change some of those trainings," Hall said. "I put this on training."

Hall said he is meeting with the police chief and mayor early next week to discuss possible reforms.

“Maybe we can come to some starting point on where we can start this communication and build better relations," Hall said.

Hall said a lot of work needs to be done to build trust between the police and the community.

Canton Police have not responded to a request for comment.

Abigail Bottar covers Akron, Canton, Kent and the surrounding areas for Ideastream Public Media. A Northeast Ohio native and lifelong listener of public radio, Abigail started in public radio as a news intern at WKSU. She graduated in 2022 with a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Kent State University.