Opinion: Columbus Has Bigger Problems Than Broken Windows
“Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.”Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
In the comments of any and every social media post regarding protests in Columbus and across the country over the weekend, you’ll likely find someone who will acknowledge the death of George Floyd — mind you, only mentioning the death of George Floyd, with no acknowledgement of a systematic issue regarding race and policing in our country — as a vehicle to get to the point of condemning riots and looting.
As has been repeated numerous times, by city officials, business owners and protesters themselves, the vast majority of protestors in Columbus were non-violent.
Take a look on social media, and you’ll find video of protesters urging one another to stay on sidewalks, to back away from officers, or at least to remain peaceful. Crowds in Downtown Columbus on Saturday afternoon even policed themselves; if someone from the crowd threw a water bottle or got too close to officers — who were already towering over them on horseback by that point — other protesters would shout in disapproval and denounce the behavior.
You’ll also find horror stories from interactions with police. Violent confrontations willingly participated in by protesters, sure, but also stories of children being pepper sprayed, of people simply trying to leave the area and being blocked by police from doing so, of people helping others rinse their faces and getting maced again, and so on.
“First rounds of tear gas goes off in the crosswalk area. People start screaming and yelling others to run. People were coughing and crying from the effects of the gas — there were children and seniors in the group,” one protester posted online. “Another round of gas goes off. This time, on the sidewalk. Not on the roads, but directly on the sidewalk.”
“I and other peaceful protestors were, once again, hit with a chemical agent,” read another post. “I say ‘chemical agent,’ because I’ve been hit with pepper spray before, and this was not that. It wasn’t tear gas either, because they deployed that plenty, too.”
“Cops were cornering friends and others into alleys, ripping their masks off, and spraying them,” read another post.
“I just witnessed a cop mace a woman in a wheelchair and then they started shooting us with rubber bullets. My backpack got hit with two bullets and a flash grenade went through my pony tail and went off between me and a kid. Then they shot tear gas where people were protecting children,” said another protester. “I was pouring magnesia milk on a man’s face and he went unconscious. They tear gassed again even though we were screaming for an EMT.”
And for those that didn’t believe protesters, their minds may have been changed by City Council President Shannon Hardin and Congresswoman Joyce Beatty on Saturday, when the officials saw first hand what kind of reaction non-violent protests against racism and police brutality get from the Columbus Division of Police.
Hint: It’s a far different reaction than protests at the Statehouse got just a few weeks ago, when armed and clearly visiting protesters gave Governor Mike DeWine and Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton hell for trying to protect Ohioans by asking them to something so awful as to wear a mask.
To be clear — I’m not telling business owners how to feel about looting and rioting. In response to the coronavirus pandemic, they are already facing significant financial burden, and some were just getting back on their feet. I would not blame someone in this situation for being angry. But in response to their broken windows, some business owners have responded with more understanding than people who have not been the least bit effected.
“Yes, 2 individuals (not a mob of angry protesters) broke our windows and we’re mad. We’re mad that stories get written and told about the suffering of a business or building instead of the daily injustice and racism that exists in our community,” wrote the owners of Paradise Garage on Facebook.
They even added their own troubling experience regarding policing in Columbus.
“We’re mad that we were forced to create a business policy 2 years ago regarding theft: never call police when something is stolen because the last time we called they bragged about cracking skulls and the places where they can do it [with] no cameras. What we want is for the voices, the pain and the truth to be heard.”
Even the CEO of Target responded with more nuance, turning attention toward the lives that have been lost, and spending less energy on material things that can be replaced.
“The murder of George Floyd has unleashed the pent-up pain of years, as have the killings of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor,” said Target Chairman and CEO Brian Cornell in a statement. “We say their names and hold a too-long list of others in our hearts.”
“As a Target team, we’ve huddled, we’ve consoled, we’ve witnessed horrific scenes similar to what’s playing out now and wept that not enough is changing. And as a team we’ve vowed to face pain with purpose,” he added.
The politically correct thing right now is to encourage protesting but request demonstrators to do so peacefully. I get that. But if your entire stance on police brutality is to tell folks to protest “the right way” or always comes back to broken windows, riots and looting, understand how clear it is to the rest of us that you were never listening before now.
If you’re willing to listen, there’s a great op-ed on Columbus Underground by Chase McCants on the why behind the protests.