The Summit County sheriff's SWAT team used tear gas late Tuesday night to disperse protesters outside the county jail, where people arrested during demonstrations over the Fourth of July weekend were being held.
"We were having a peaceful protest, the next thing I know, they were throwing tear gas at us," James Crawl, a former wrestling teammate of Walker at Buchtel high school, told the Beacon Journal.
The sheriff's department said as many as 75 people were protesting and banging on doors at one point outside the jail. The decision to use tear gas was made because protesters were disrupting jail operations, a spokesman said.
"It was affecting the operating of the jail, and that was upsetting the inmates," said Bill Holland, public information officer. "The inmates inside the jail were becoming agitated."
Protesters were given several orders to disperse, he said. By the time tear gas was used, the crowd had shrunk in size, Holland said. "Everybody ended up leaving."
No one was arrested, and no injuries were reported, he said.
The city implemented a 9 p.m. downtown curfew Sunday following days of protests but lifted the measure Wednesday.
Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan defends arrests
In a statement released Wednesday morning, Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan said the curfew was put in place “due to safety concerns.”
He said officers weren't arresting protesters “who choose to peacefully protest.”
"Hundreds of citizens have protested in our community for days without incident, and we support their right to do so. In fact, we will take every step to make sure they can continue to do so safely,” he said. "Those who were arrested were engaged in criminal behavior.
“They were becoming violent with officers and disrupting the peace which the community has been urging throughout this difficult time in our city. These individuals do not represent the larger gathering of peaceful protests and we won’t let them control the narrative of our community who are voicing their concerns.
"I continue to urge peace in our city and ask that if you see threats or instances of violence, that you report them.”
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The demonstration outside the jail Tuesday remained peaceful throughout the day, but tensions ramped up shortly after sunset when Summit County SWAT vehicles and officers were dispatched and deployed tear gas to disperse the crowd.
According to sources and videos posted to social media, the SWAT team arrived in a SWAT vehicle with what appeared to be about a dozen other police vehicles.
Can’t get any closer to the jail. pic.twitter.com/BeT8x8KCpI
— Abbey Marshall (@AbbeyMarshall) July 6, 2022
One eyewitness, who did not give his name, said he did not see any arrests made following the tear gas.
"Everybody started taking off and running," he said. "Most of the protesters had already left ... They said it was a restricted area."
The witness speculated the tear gas was deployed because of the city's 9 p.m. curfew, but those boundaries, which only include downtown Akron, exclude the jail.
'Noise demo' outside Summit County Jail
The goal of Tuesday night's hours-long protest outside Summit County Jail was to make some noise.
Activists banged on pots and pans with wooden spoons, screamed into megaphones and waved flags declaring "no justice, no peace."
The so-called "noise demo" was to show those locked inside that they were not alone.
From inside their cells, several of the 49 activists who were arrested on charges stemming from violence over the Fourth of July holiday weekend in Akron pounded on their windows in response. Several had crafted signs to communicate with their fellow protesters. "I love you!" said one. "(expletive) APD" read another.
The jailed activists faced misdemeanor charges like rioting, misconduct at an emergency and failure to disperse. Many pleaded not guilty Tuesday via video in Akron Municipal Court and were released on either signature or very low bonds.
Protesters began gathering at around 2:30 p.m. Serve the People Akron, a local mutual aid organization, collected more than $12,000 in bail funds over the course of 12 hours.
After bail was posted, the protesters were not released directly from jail, several sources said, but instead dropped off at various locations across the city, from St. Vincent-St. Mary High School to Stonehedge bowling alley.
Sierra Mason, a 24-year-old organizer from Canton, said she followed a sheriff's cruiser to a Sheetz gas station, where they dropped off bailed-out protesters. She helped take one of the men home.
"Instead of releasing these people out front where they would be supported by community, they're deciding to do this," she said. "It's intentional. Instead of being here, they got me driving all over town."
Jennifer Rogers, a 40-year-old Akron resident, was standing in the parking lot worrying about her 18-year-old son with autism early in the evening. She said she had not been able to get him his medication since his Sunday arrest and had no contact with him.
"My son was in there if they haven't already dropped him off in the middle of nowhere," she said. "I'm real angry."
She later found him at a Dairy Queen on the West Side, an organizer told the Beacon Journal.
'We need to stand together in unity'
For hours, protesters lined the barbed wire fences, chanting refrains condemning "racist police" and declaring "Jayland's life mattered."
Several people began gathering flowers from the devil strip and used them to spell out Jayland's name in the chain-link fence.
Horns blared as more protesters drove up to join the demonstration, and the crowd moved to the parking lot. Several people approached the building and shouted at officers inside as armed guards on top of the building surveilled the situation.
"I didn't even know him, but I came out because we need to stand together in unity," said 27-year-old Milana McCormick. "That's the only way we will get justice."
Beacon Journal reporter Jim Mackinnon contributed to this report. Reporter Abbey Marshall is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Learn more at reportforamerica.org. Contact her at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Jayland Walker protests: Summit SWAT vehicles sent to county jail