Akron City Councilmembers Support Protesters After Last Wednesday Night’s Jayland Walker Protest!



IdeastreamPublicMedia.org, By By Abigail Bottar, Posted April 24th 2023

A peaceful protest in West Akron last Wednesday night ended in police using tear gas and pepper spray against protesters and the media. Akron Ward 4 City Councilmember Russ Neal happened upon the protest, which took place in his ward, after police arrived. He hopes the altercation can be a learning experience.

Neal was on his way home from a meeting when he saw the lights of about a dozen police cruisers on Copley Road. He stopped to assess the situation and quickly called Akron Police Chief Steve Mylett when he saw police officers using tear gas and pepper spray on peaceful protesters.

“I said, ‘Chief, folks are protesting in their own neighborhood. I’m just asking if we can give them some grace and understand that they’re not going to tear up their own neighborhood,” Neal said.

Although he tried to deescalate the situation, officers continued to spray the chemical agents.

Neal said he understands police were concerned that protesters blocking the road could interfere with emergency vehicles but that the police could have come to an agreement with the protesters without force.

“When people are in their own community, you need to give them a little bit more space,” Neal said.

Protesters were planning to leave the intersection of Copley Road and East Avenue right before the police showed up, he said.

“They were trying to keep control too. They were navigating traffic. They were telling the crowd to continue to move,” Neal said. “They understood that nothing positive the way things were escalating that nothing positive was going to happen there, so they got the protesters to continue to move down the street.”

Despite most protesters clearing the street as law enforcement demanded, officers continued to use pepper spray on protesters and media standing on the sidewalk. The city claims the police used the chemical agents in response to protesters throwing plastic water bottles at them. However, Ideastream Public Media reporters counter and video footage recorded by Ideastream shows that police first used pepper spray against several protesters and then two water bottles were thrown. Neal said he saw one of the water bottles thrown.

“Everything I saw except for the one water bottle that was thrown was peaceful from the protester’s side,” Neal said.

A protest last week in Highland Square and on Tuesday in downtown Akron partially blocked traffic and involved no police presence.

“If you gave that one grace, I would think there would be more empathy for this one to give another ward grace,” Neal said.

The city has sectioned off part of downtown as a designated protest zone, which protesters have largely refused to use.

“It’s like saying, ‘Go to the timeout corner, and you can only do this here,” Neal said, adding that he understands the designated protest zone is meant to keep both businesses and protesters safe.

Another protest is scheduled in Hawkins Plaza Thursday night. Neal hopes the protesters have communicated with law enforcement ahead of time, adding that a lot of officers are empathetic to the community and want to help them protest safely.

“Nobody wants what happened yesterday to happen again, so hopefully we can learn from this,” Neal said. “So this doesn’t happen again.”

Akron PD has not responded to several requests to comment from Ideastream Public Media whether any arrests were made Wednesday night. However, they did release a report about a homicide that occurred after the protest in West Akron. Although the altercation began in Highland Square where some protesters had gathered, it is unclear if the shooting was connected to any protesters. The report states the victim, a 22 year old male DoorDash driver, appeared to be making a delivery when he was shot by two men who had followed him from Highland Square. Both men are in custody.

Ward 5 Akron City Councilmember and mayoral candidate Tara Mosley released a statement on the protest, highlighting that there were no reports of injury or property damage before police arrived at the scene.

“The police and deputies declared that this group was an “unlawful assembly,” Mosley said. “This declaration was their justification for deploying chemical weapons on the people of Akron.”

Mosley agreed that the protest was peaceful until police arrived.

“This assembly was not unlawful; it was demanding to be heard,” Mosley said, chastising the officers on the scene for not deescalating the situation.

Ward 8 Akron City Councilmember and mayoral candidate Shammas Malik released a statement on Twitter, stating that police used “pepper spray not in urgent self defense, but in an almost casual way.” He called their behavior unacceptable.

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