Council President Pro Tem Brown Announces Police Demilitarization Hearings
On Sunday, June 21, over three weeks of protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death culminated once again in violence. Just five days after Mayor Andrew Ginther issued a directive prohibiting the use of tear gas for crowd control measure and limiting pepper spray to “clear instances of violence,” Columbus police once again released chemical agents into the crowds Downtown.
The confrontation made national news outlets, as in one instance a man with double leg amputations was hit and pepper-sprayed by police.
In response, city council members, including Council President Pro Tem Elizabeth Brown, released statements regarding Sunday’s protests.
City Council President Shannon Hardin reiterated much of what he has already said in the past regarding clashes with protesters and the police, even as he himself got pepper sprayed at a protest weeks prior.
“I ask all our peaceful protesters and Police leadership to stay engaged to help keep the protests safe for all who want to use their voice to call for change,” he said.
He added that the confrontations are “distracting energy” from the city’s current work on police reforms, and that what he has seen in videos regarding police use of pepper spray was out of line with the mayor’s directive.
Council member Rob Dorans also commented on Monday afternoon, tweeting, “Much of what I saw yesterday violated the Mayor’s Directive to not use chemical agents on peaceful protesters.”
Pro Tem Brown, however, went into specifics, speaking on the importance of First Amendment rights as well as steps the city would attempt to take in demilitarizing the police force.
“I support the organizers in our city’s streets expressing their First Amendment rights not just in the service of the demand for change, but also in the celebration of Black lives,” she said. “I believe that meaningful change starts with the central question, ‘How do we keep every resident safe?’ We know the current and long-standing system isn’t doing that.”
Pro Tem Brown voiced concern that the “straightforward work of respecting free speech” is posing a problem for officers, “when much harder work lies ahead.” She then added that residents should not feel like they’re at war when protesting police violence.
“We cannot build a paramilitary operation and expect officers employed by it to keep the peace,” she said.
Pro Tem Brown, who is chair of the Finance Committee, said she plans to hold hearings regarding the city’s purchasing code, “which currently allows the Columbus Division of Police to buy equipment that only belongs in the hands of military operations.” She then announced council will hold police demilitarization hearings before the July 4th holiday.
“Meaningful change to safeguard Black lives in Columbus is urgent. We must move faster,” she said.