October 2020

Voices of Change Town Hall

Courtesy of ABC6
October 20, 2020

ABC 6 is On Your Side, pushing the conversation forward about race and policing in Central Ohio.

During the town hall, which was hosted by COSI, ABC 6/FOX 28 anchors Stacia Naquin and Rodney Dunigan spoke with police, community leaders, and police families about violence and unrest this year and what can be done to bring about change.

Columbus Police Public Information Officer Sgt. James Fuqua said change begins with meaningful engagement between police and the community.

He said it is important for people to have respectful engagement with people who are not like-minded and said many officers have been having these discussions with members of the community.

Jasmine Ayers with The People’s Justice Project said while some officers do attend community events, it is often the same officers each time and it is not “the ones who need to be there.”

Ayers said she would like to see all officers participate and be engaged in their communities so they know the people they will be dealing with.

Fuqua said 2020 has been difficult for everyone, especially officers. He said while there are changes that need to be made within the department, he is proud of the work it has done this year.

Three family members of officers, who are also members of the Central Ohio Police Families Association, also joined the discussion at the town hall to discuss the impact of the summer of unrest and the tensions between police and communities.

They said the summer of 2020 has been the toughest time to be a law enforcement family and said their families have received threats, especially when protests and riots were taking place in downtown Columbus.

They said while protests were going on, they anxiously watched the coverage and waited for a phone call letting them know their officers were safe.

One of the family members said relationships within their communities and families have been damaged because people feel they need to pick a side to be on.

“Most police officers become officers to help communities,” one of the women said. “They don’t look at peoples’ race.”

Rapper, actor and entrepreneur Mekka Don, Columbus Police Officer Anthony “AJ” Johnson, and City of Grace Church Pastor Michael Young also took part in the town hall.

Mekka Don said the momentum for change is important and it is important for people who have a platform to bring about change that will lead to equality.

He also said everyone’s voice, and vote, matters and they can help bring about the change they want to see.

Johnson, who is known as the dancing cop on social media, said it’s important for him to connect with kids in the community and be a ray of light, even if it means embarrassing himself.

He said when he is in the community, he is having hard conversations with children he comes across. He said knowledge is important for both police and community members and that is the only way to understand one another.

Young hosted a men’s march during the summer and said he wanted to use the march to change the narrative and bias about Black men in the community.

He also said it’s important to celebrate small victories, but people cannot take their eyes off the long-term goal of equality.

Stephanie Hightower, President and CEO of the Columbus Urban League, also said having difficult conversations is the first step toward change and reform.

She said the Columbus Police Civilian Review Board is part of that reform. That issue, Issue 2, is on the election ballot.

She also said Columbus city officials and leaders are beginning to have tough conversations on change.

Columbus City Council President Shannon Hardin also joined the town hall.

As he did earlier in the week, he expressed his frustrations over violence in the city and said it’s time for people to put the guns down.

He said city and state leaders have a role to play in bringing about change, but it is “on all of us.”

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