May 2020

A perfect storm’: Decades of oppression, anger lead to Columbus unrest

Courtesy of The Columbus Dispatch
May 29, 2020

COLUMBUS — Nana Watson stood at the intersection of Broad and High streets Thursday night with her heart in her throat and tears in her eyes.

The president of the Columbus Chapter of the NAACP wasn’t surprised by what she was seeing. So much pent-up anger, so much frustration, so much hurt from oppression, all bubbling over into attacks and destruction.

She gets it. Oh, my how she gets it, she told The Columbus Dispatch on Friday morning as she called the roll of the names of young black men in Columbus who have been killed by police.

“The black community is angry. All people are angry. Everyone who watched the murder of George Floyd is angry,” she said of the black man who died in Minneapolis earlier this week after a white police officer there pinned him to the ground by his neck.

But she said that she thinks of those in that downtown crowd of hundreds of protesters who shattered windows of the Ohio Statehouse, who broke into local businesses and looted them, who ripped apart the very bus stops that keep people dry as they simply wait in the rain for a ride to work. And she can’t help but wonder: Is this the way to change?

Yet she said she knows this: Thursday night was just the tip of the iceberg.

“We are angry about unemployment. We are angry about no child care and lack of access to education and being held hostage in our homes by COVID-19,” she said. “All those things that black people have been deprived of forever now comes at the time of the virus. And it all boiled over.”

But the destruction of property, the throwing of rocks and water bottles and firecrackers at Columbus police officers won’t solve the problem, she said.

“The NAACP supports protesting,” she said. But she added that relations between the black community and Columbus police have improved, and she doesn’t want to see that backslide.

“We have to be thoughtful about protesting,” she said. “We have such a right to be angry. But destroying one’s property and a business owner’s livelihood is not the answer. Watching those officers stand there like tin soldiers as people stoned them. I won’t soon forget that image.”

Community leaders didn’t hold back their feelings Friday about the unrest that was so out of character for what Columbus has seen before, more volatile even than the protests that followed some of the more high-profile and controversial fatal police shootings in recent years.

Although she said the destruction of property is wrong, the time for standing silent is long past, said Stephanie Hightower, president and CEO of the Columbus Urban League.

“Recent racist incidents and violence demand direct language. The hard truth must be said. America stands at a crossroads. The choice is clear — do we have the will and the determination to finally rise above four hundred years of bigotry and racism?” she wrote in a statement.

By Holly Zachariah

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