Council discussions turn toward justice; Akron NAACP leader addresses meeting

January 12, 2009

     The final portion of Monday night’s Akron City Council meeting was devoted to discussions over police-community relations and questions over police-involved shootings.

     Akron Chapter NAACP President Ophelia Averitt addressed Council after regular business concluded to respond to accusations that her organization is not doing enough to seek justice for the victims of police shootings, and to call for changes in police-community relations.

     Members of Jeffrey Stephens’ family and other demonstrators confronted Averitt outside her office over the weekend. The demonstrators urged the NAACP do more to support their efforts to get answers concerning his death and others who died in police-involved incidents. Stephens was shot in his 3rd Ward neighborhood by police who were responding to a call of shots fired into his home over the July 4th holiday.

     Averitt said she was upset by the surprise protest, but is just as frustrated because her office has not been given enough information to go forward with its investigation, either.

     “Everybody was upset and everybody was devastated (by Stephens’s death) but we know we have an auditor to bring back what has transpired,” Averitt said. “His hands were tied and he was not given any information with which we could go forth. National (NAACP) has said ‘have the facts.’ I could not get the facts.”

     Council president Marco Sommerville – himself a former Akron chapter president – defended Averitt and the NAACP. He also announced new a new partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice, the Ohio Attorney General, the city’s safety director, the new acting police chief and Ohio Rep. Vernon Sykes toward improving relations.

     “The Department of Justice will be coming to Akron to meet with members of Council, the new police chief, the law department, the mayor, the head of the police union, the police auditor and members of the community,” Sommerville said. “So far, however, the department is trying to change some things. We now have police cameras in all 12 district cars, so we can have some kind of type of recording of everything that happens, should an incident like that arise again.”