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Black Pride 4 Members Sentenced with Community Service, Probation

Lauren Sega Lauren Sega Black Pride 4 Members Sentenced with Community Service, ProbationBlack Pride 4 member Wriply Bennet.
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Members of the Black Pride 4 (BP4), the group of black trans individuals who were arrested after protesting last year’s Pride Parade, were handed their sentences on Monday, March 13. Wriply Bennet, Ashley Braxton, and Kendall Denton were sentenced with fines, community service and probationary periods but received no jail time. Deandre Miles, who has a felony charge of aggravated robbery and is being processed separately, is still awaiting trial.

Black Queer & Intersectional Columbus (BQIC) and other supporters sighed with relief at the decision for no jail time. Bennet, who was found guilty of disorderly conduct, failure to obey and resisting arrest, will complete 80 hours of community service and have two years’ probation. Braxton, who was found guilty of disorderly conduct and failure to obey, will pay a $200 fine plus court costs, complete 60 hours of community service, and have two years’ probation. Denton, who was found guilty of disorderly conduct and failure to obey, will pay a $50 fine plus court costs, complete 48 hours of community service, and have two years’ probation.

Miles has yet to go to court, as they were studying abroad in the UK and were given extended time for an indictment to be followed, according to BQIC member Helen Stewart. More updates on their case are to come in the next few weeks.

The four were arrested last June after leading a silent protest that obstructed the Stonewall Columbus Pride parade. With tape over their mouths and interlocking hands, the BP4 hoped for seven minutes of silence, one for each of the times Minnesota police officer Jeronimo Yanez shot Philando Castile during a routine traffic stop in 2016. Yanez was found not guilty of second-degree manslaughter on June 16, 2017, a day before Columbus’ parade.

Both BP4 members and witnesses of the incident have said it took less than 10 seconds for Columbus police to respond to the protest. Bennet, Denton, Braxton and Miles were pushed down, maced and subsequently arrested, a process CDP Commander Robert Strausbaugh said adhered to their rules of engagement.

“Mace was used after the verbal requests by officers were ignored and to facilitate getting order back quickly. Bunches of people in one location is of great concern to me and my leadership team,” wrote Commander Robert Strausbaugh with the Columbus Division of Police in an email to CU last year. “The group would have benefitted in their goal, recognition of their issues, if they would have made us aware of their action prior to their entering the street.”

Though most members of the BP4 won’t be serving time, they likely won’t be showing up to protest Stonewall’s Pride Parade this year. A boycott of the event, which has become the largest Pride parade in the Midwest, was suggested by BQIC as well as former Stonewall Senior Program Manager Lori Gum.

Gum, in response to former Stonewall Executive Director Karla Rothan’s recent retirement, sees the relationship between the organization and the community to be tainted.

“Yes. Today, Executive Director Karla Rothan announced her ‘retirement’ sometime at the end of 2018. In the meantime, she will work with the SWC Board to ‘transition’ into new leadership,” Gum said in a widely shared Facebook post on Friday, March 2. “How convenient. This is typical SWC [Stonewall Columbus] business as usual. What Rothan and the Board have done… is relieve Rothan of the accountability of ED but she can still can remain for the accolades…. and drum up sentiment from the community and continue to dominate the culture that will oversee the opening of a new community center and Pride 2018.”

Gum says the only way forward is through a partnership between the Columbus Division of Police and the Pride Parade organizers that would permit “democratic dissent and protest within our community parade without brutality.”

“Then and only then….,” Gum continued, “will I bless an SWC Pride parade and festival.”

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