News

May 2021

1 year since protests: Community weighs in on impact, if reforms have made Columbus better

Courtesy of ABC6
By Haley Nelson
May 26, 2021

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WSYX) — One year ago, protests erupted on the streets of Downtown Columbus.

We were there as thousands of people marched through the area, standing together and demanding change.

At night it was sometimes a different scene. Some others clashed with police at times, vandalized buildings, and ransacked stores.

Protesters breached the Ohio Statehouse on May 28, 2020. (WSYX){ }

In the year since Columbus has changed. City leaders proposed and approved reforms to city law and policing.

Voters approved a Civilian Review Board in Columbus, tasked with investigating allegations of misconduct, or use of force involving Columbus Police officers.

A new Columbus police chief will be hired, an outsider for the first time. This comes after former chief Thomas Quinlan was removed from his post in January.

The finalists for Columbus’ next chief of police are Elaine Bryant, Derrick Diggs, Avery Moore, and Ivonne Roman. (Photo courtesy: City of Columbus)

ABC6/FOX28 went across Columbus to talk to different community leaders and neighbors about this past year, plus their hopes for what is next.

“The thing that gives me hope is the request for the Department of Justice to come into the city of Columbus,” said Jasmine Ayres, community advocate and member of the workgroup that created guidelines for the Civilian Review Board. “This to me is the biggest case study for increasing services in the community. We want more rec centers. We want to see more parks. We want to see more tutoring. We want to see more after-school programs. We want to see more mental health resources.”

For Ayres, some of the biggest “moments” are connected to Columbus City Council.

“Some of them should have been done a long time ago, right? Like our reforms on no-knock raids, which still don’t go far enough in my opinion. The fact that we are going to do a more intensive background check to make sure that there aren’t hate affiliations, that is important, but these are not big structural changes,” she said.

Some shared concerns about neighborhood violence.

“I can tell you I talk to neighbors daily and I get emails daily from people who live in our boundary areas, which is Schumacher, Merion, German and Brewery, and everybody is always saying ‘I am fearful, I am afraid’,” Dee Debenport said.

Debenport has been active in her area for decades.

“Mayor Ginther says we can’t police our way out of this, well we need the police to get out of this,” she said. “I would like to see police out of cruisers and out on the streets walking and talking to people. I would like to see police coming to more meetings.”

Columbus Urban League President Stephanie Hightower was on the workgroup that helped create the structure of the Civilian Review Board.

“The Civilian Review Board those appointments are critical…the next police chief those are things that are a big part of the solution. Those are important. We know that there has been an increase in violence in this community, right? The business community has stepped up and we are working on trying to get young people employed for the summer,” Hightower said.

Hightower would like to see an increased focus on helping young people in Columbus and address evictions and housing issues.

Her worry, that talks about reform are just the “flavor of the day.”

“What I do though think is happening is the solutions are coming about, because people like a Stephanie Hightower leading a black-led organization have not been at tables before that she is at tables now. And what that says to me is that there is a thoughtful willingness in the majority community, in the business community to hear what organization like the Columbus Urban League what we really do,” she said.

We have seen a historic rise in violence with the number of homicides about double compared to recent years.

“They have certainly implemented some change. It has been unfortunately detrimental. We talked about it a year ago and we anticipated that by demonizing police officers and by emboldening and empowering the criminal element, you are bound to get a net result of more crime, and of course we did that,” he said.

He also notes record police resignations and retirements. He believes proactive policing has been squelched.

What about the role of the pandemic?

“I don’t really think bad guys pay any attention to the pandemic, to be honest with you. It is a direct result of what started in May of last year,” he said. “A year ago if the mayor and city council had sat down with people in law enforcement and said, ‘let’s discuss what the deal is with helicopters, let’s talk about what equipment you really need, let’s talk about more training, because officers always want more training, let’s talk about that.’ They didn’t do that.”

1 year since protests: Community weighs in on impact, if reforms have made Columbus better

A lot of changes this past year but nearly one thing everyone can agree on, it’s unlike anything in our history.

“This is unprecedented,” Scanlon said. “We are not surprised that this happened. We are surprised at what rate how quickly it happened and to what degree.”

“I think there are more people that want to, and the people can do want to do and so that is why this is an exciting time for Columbus,” Hightower said.

“I expect a lot of change that will come with a new police chief, some of it will be good some of it will be bad, but in the interim, we will see a summer like we have never seen before,” Debenport said.

“I would just ask that everybody keeps an open mind and that you listen and really try to empathize with the people who are directly affected by this,” Ayres said.

Could we see more reform? The answer is likely yes.

A City Council spokesperson shared this statement:

“Council is researching another round of specific reforms for the Division of Police and violence prevention plans, both as part of the efforts to Reimagine Public Safety. These will be announced in June, with additional public hearings and we expect some reforms will be passed in July. This is a long-term process and Council is committed to Reimagining Public Safety.”

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