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Police attack demonstration in Ohio

By staff |
June 1, 2020
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Columbus, OH - On the morning of May 30, Columbus residents gathered in large numbers downtown to demonstrate against anti-Black police violence. The protest is one of many across the U.S. that have come after the extrajudicial public killing of 46-year-old George Floyd by Minneapolis police. By the scheduled start time of 10 a.m., nearly 2000 people had congregated outside the gates of the Columbus Statehouse, where the previous night's broken windows had been boarded up, with the grounds patrolled by Columbus SWAT personnel.

In the first hour of the demonstration, marchers who had trickled in from all directions clustered along the western perimeter of the statehouse along High Street, waving signs and chanting slogans, raising their voices to honor the names of African American martyrs of police violence. Among the fallen named were Tamir Rice, age 12, of Cleveland; Tyre King, 13, and Julius Tate, 16, both of Columbus.

Although the protesters only deployed peaceful tactics, the community was prepared for the possibility of aggression from counter-demonstrators. On street corners, curbs and plazas, organizers and individuals had stationed pallets of water bottles, small food items, and first-aid supplies. Medics made themselves identifiable in the crowd and patrolled at a brisk pace. Legal observers from the Ohio Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild wearing green hats stationed themselves at the outer perimeters of the crowds and stood with pads and pencils.

As the crowd moved to line both sides of High Street, they were met with squadrons of armed policemen, who used bicycles to fence protesters. As the chants continued, the policemen drew canisters of pepper sprays and pulled their pins in order to menace and intimidate the crowd. The presence of legal observers did not deter disproportionate use of force against the demonstrators closest in proximity to the police blockade.

As the clusters along each corner grew in density, the police made examples of some individuals with beatings and the use of pepper spray. In some instances, the crowd was able to recover the battered, but in spite of these efforts, some arrests were made. Although the cops intended to inspire fear by dragging the detained parties into the middle of the intersection where they were most visible, the crowd sent off the handcuffed captives with applause, and did not fall back.

Among the victims were the United States Congresswoman Joyce Beatty, who represents Ohio's Third District; Columbus City Council President Shannon Hardin; and Franklin County Commissioner Kevin Boyce. The assault and pepper-spraying of three Black politicians made news after a video of the incident captured by nbc4i was circulated on national media outlets. Another video showed a portly officer spraying a demonstrator with pepper spray or mace before reaching into the face of the latter and violently tearing his respiratory mask off.

As the demonstration drew into the afternoon, a SWAT team and a squadron of policemen on horseback were dispatched, flanking a large armored vehicle equipped with a Long-Range Acoustic Device (LRAD). The LRAD was used to dispatch a notice to evacuate the downtown area due to an unspecified emergency. At 1:24 p.m., the following Emergency Alert was broadcast via cellular networks: "Columbus Police have declared an emergency in downtown Columbus Ohio, Avoid the area." The police presence succeeded in splitting the demonstration into a large cluster that mobilized north along High Street and stationed at the intersection of High and 5th Ave nearly two miles north, while the remainder stayed on the grounds of the Statehouse in defiance of the order to disperse. Although this appeared to be a concession, the demonstration at the statehouse only continued to grow, and was restored to its original size by the evening.

At 5:07 p.m., Ohio Governor Mike DeWine tweeted, "I am now calling to service the @OHNationalGuard to help protect the citizens of Ohio. Further, at the request of @MayorGinther and the @ChiefQuinlan, I am ordering the @OSHP to also help enforce the criminal laws in Columbus." Twitter users responded with incredulity, drawing parallels to the deployment of the Ohio National Guard to the main campus of Kent State University on May 4, 1970. Within the half hour, another Emergency Alert was broadcast, this time, issuing a mandatory citywide curfew between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. the following day. In spite of these open threats from the state to disband, demonstrations continued and escalated through the night.

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