AKRON, Ohio (WJW) – Community leaders and organizations are using the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend to celebrate the life of the late Dr. King, while at the same time promoting unity in the name of Jayland Walker.
Four days of activities and discussions begin Friday evening with a Gospel Festival at the Goodyear Theater.
During the daytime, local businesses have been asked to hold an internal dialogue about “crucial and courageous” topics, including social justice, mental health and the current state of Akron.
Walker was shot more than 40 times while running from police officers on June 27. The incident followed a brief chase during which officers say he fired at them from his car.
The incident, including the officers’ actions that night, remains the focus of a BCI investigation.
Among the organizers of this weekend’s activities is Rev. Robert DeJournett, a pastor for Walker’s Family.
“Not just a performative weekend, but something that’s going to be impactful. Something that’s going to address the current state of things here in the spirit of what Martin Luther King stood for,” said Dejournett.
“We always say we have to have the uncomfortable conversations. We have to get comfortable having the uncomfortable conversations because if we don’t, we are never going to move the needle. We never are going to move ahead if we hold stuff in and it comes out sideways,” he said.
On Saturday, a symposium will also be held at the Goodyear Theater, which will include a panel discussion with local and national input from guests, including Rev. Mark Thompson of New York, who hosts a national podcast called ‘Make it Plain.’
“I felt personally that if Dr. King were alive, he would be in Akron seeking justice for Jayland Walker and that’s how this concept began,” Thompson told FOX 8 News before boarding a plane in New York destined for Akron.
“The Akron community, and particularly Jayland’s mother Pamela Walker, really stood up during the initial incident and they called for peace and non-violence, also in the spirit of Dr. King,” he added. “Just because you call for peace and non-violence, doesn’t mean you don’t want justice. In fact, Dr. King said true peace is the presence of justice.”
Thompson said the weekend discussions would also take on other issues of violence that have plagued the city of Akron.
“This weekend, we are going to be talking about all of the issues of violence that we face in our community. We know that there is a great deal of criminal violence and drug-related violence that is rampant. We want to talk about that as well,” said Thompson.
The community is also being directed to a ‘Justice for Jayland’ website where they are being asked to sign a petition with demands of the city, including:
— A public apology to the Walker family, acknowledging that the officers who shot Jayland used excessive and illegal force.
— Installation of dash cameras in all police vehicles.
— A requirement that all Akron police officers wear body cameras (BWCs) that run continuously from the beginning to the end of their shifts.
— A requirement that all Akron police officers be prohibited from silencing the audio recording capability of their BWCs.
The activities will wrap up on Monday with a ‘Youth Day of Doing,’ working with Akron Public Schools to get kids engaged in their communities.
“They are going to go to at least one side of town. There are four sites — east side, west side, north side, south side — and they are going to create a day of action where kids will do service work, but at the same time they want to engage them in conversation, hear their voice and talk to them about what the future looks like,” said DeJournett
“People want to have this dialogue over the weekend and I think people want to go forward beyond the holiday, beyond Monday to see what can be done for justice in Akron, peace in Akron and healing,” said Thompson.