On July 9, hundreds gathered in the streets of downtown Akron, Ohio, to continue the weeks-long protests of the police killing of Jayland Walker. Called by the Party for Socialism and Liberation of Northeast Ohio and joined by The Freedom Bloc, Black Lives Matter Cleveland, Serve the People Akron and other members of the community, the rally came off of the heels of the shooting of a 4-year-old, later identified as a niece of Walker’s fiancee. Although Akron Police Chief Steve Mylett stated that police do not believe the shooting had anything to do with the protests, city officials nevertheless called for a 48-hour halt on demonstrations.
When asked by the Akron Beacon-Journal why the rally was continuing, PSL member Riley Petro responded, “Obviously the death of somebody so young is a tragedy, and I just feel it’s awful that city officials would exploit that to try and tamp down on people’s freedom of speech.”
Abuse and arrests of non-violent protesters
During the press conference when bodycam footage of Walker’s killing was released, Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan stated that he understood that people would be angry and that he would not discourage non-violent protests. However, protesters at a July 4 demonstration documented police firing tear gas at participants who posed no threat to them. The following day, a 9 p.m. curfew was announced with the city citing supposed violence by protesters.
As demonstrations continued, police began arresting and assaulting protesters, including Jacob Blake, Sr., the father of Jacob Blake, Jr.; and Bianca Austin, the aunt of Breonna Taylor. Footage of Blake’s arrest shows that he was violently assaulted by police and had to be hospitalized as a result. When speaking about the the incident, Blake stated: “We posed no threat the other night. Yet they pummeled [fellow protester] Mike Harris about the face with their fists, then they stomped him with their feet. They beat me into a seizure. I don’t know what happened next. When I woke up at the hospital, I woke up more determined than ever.”
At a July 11 press briefing, Chief Mylett stated that only seven protesters had been arrested since demonstrations had begun. However, according to Serve the People Akron — which has been managing a bail fund for arrested protesters — roughly 50 demonstrators have been detained by APD, 20 of whom were only released through the bail fund they had raised.
As city officials continue falsely promising to respect protesters’ First Amendment rights and releasing distorted information to the press, the people of Akron remain resolute in their cause. As part of his speech at the July 9 rally, Jacob Blake, Sr. advised the crowd, “We cannot let fear dictate what we do, because if we allow them to control us with fear, then we become nothing.”