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Akron council members raise new safety concerns at Juneteenth events

Akron council members raise new safety concerns at Juneteenth events

During a tense Akron City Council meeting Monday, some council members doubled down on safety concerns and their opposition to planned Juneteenth events last weekend.

Mayor Shammas Malik canceled all city-affiliated meetings on Friday after eight council members signed a letter “respectfully requesting (Malik) cancel these events in the interest of public safety,” council members wrote in the letter, which specifically referenced to the events of Juneteenth. on city property. Their concerns include that the suspect or suspects in a recent mass shooting remain at large and that rallies could “set the stage” for “retaliatory shootings.”

There were no “credible threats,” Malik said Friday.

However, during Monday’s City Council meeting, several council members raised concerns that were not addressed in the initial letter.

Council President Margo Sommerville’s biggest concern, she said, was that police staffing for the three Juneteenth events was “inequitable.”

She alleged that the Joy Park Juneteenth event, held in East Akron, near where the shooting occurred, got four Akron police officers, while the gathering at Stoner Hawkins Park on the west side got nine.

Ideastream Public Media reached out to a spokesperson for the Akron Police Department to confirm the number of officers budgeted for each event, as well as the process for determining how many were needed. Ideastream has not yet received a response.

Tara Mosley Weems, a former city council member who is hosting the Joy Park event, was told there would be seven officers at the event, based on the number of expected attendees — about 250 to 300 people coming and going, she said. After hearing Sommerville’s comments at the city council meeting, she asked the police chief for more information, Weems said.

Sommerville also claimed that Police Chief Brian Harding told her that the Hawkins event had increased officers because it was a “city-sponsored” event with “the city logo on the marketing materials.”

Nanette Pitt, Mayor Malik’s chief strategy officer, denied Sommerville’s claim.

“Officers were assigned based on the needs of each event as evaluated by police department protocols,” Pitt said. “(Malik) relies on the expertise of the chief of police and all experts in the police department to make these decisions.”

Ideastream has also asked the police spokesperson for comment.

Another concern discussed Monday was that the mayor did not contact neighborhood council members to discuss safety plans for the events, Sommerville said. Although Malik told her there was a plan, he did not provide specific information, she said.

Jan Davis, who represents Ward 4 on the city’s west side, echoed those concerns.

‘I am a ward councilor. You should have included me in those conversations, and we may not be here in this room today,” Davis said.

Davis told Ideastream that she did not specifically ask Malik for the safety plan.

“And that’s something that I accept, and I should have reached out, okay, but I didn’t,” Davis said. “I think the reason I didn’t reach out (was) because I heard from leadership that he wasn’t sharing.”

Ward 5 Councilman Johnnie Hannah represents parts of the north, south and east sides of the city, including East Akron, where the mass shooting occurred. Hannah felt insufficient information was provided to council members about the safety plan, he said at the meeting.

“Council members were not involved or consulted,” Hannah said.

In the future, Davis wants district representatives to be involved in event planning, she said.

Davis also said she didn’t want the Juneteenth events to be canceled and had even donated $100 to each of the two events in her neighborhood.

“It was never my intention to have this event canceled. That letter to me was the letter that would be for the record in case something happened,” Davis said.

When asked why she signed the letter, which specifically requests the events be canceled, Davis said she did not read it first before signing it.

“The bottom line is the mayor has veto power,” she said. “If you felt like everything was safe, you have to make a decision and you know, move on, get on with it.”

Councilman Donnie Kammer also spoke out, calling for a better process for planning community events. He added that he wanted an apology for a post on the mayor’s Facebook page that said the Lock 3 concert would be canceled “due to the Akron City Councilman’s concerns.”

City officials announced they are partnering with the Akron Urban League to hold a Juneteenth celebration at the John S. Knight Center in downtown Akron on Wednesday from 1 to 7 p.m. METRO RTA is waiving fares all day, according to a press release.