After Police Spray Mace To Clear Protest, Disagreement Over Necessity Of Force

Feb 3, 2017

Columbus police are asking that demonstrators refrain from blocking on-coming traffic, after a protest Monday night downtown ended in the use of pepper spray—something local organizations say was unnecessary.

The protest, organized in response to President Trump's immigration ban, drew some 2,000 participants to the Ohio Statehouse. Law enforcement officials say they were given less than 24 hours' notice about the event and that protestors did not have a permit.  

Police said in a press conference Friday that a small group of the protesters gathered on High Street to intentionally block traffic. This prevented the passage of critical emergency services, like ambulances and fire trucks, and police said it was necessary to remove protestors.

According to officials, police issued a verbal warning for 40 minutes before they used mace in order to control the crowd.

In a joint statement, the local organizations People's Justice Project and Central Ohio Worker Center said that police used mace despite the peaceful nature of the protest.    

"Police threatened to arrest and use pepper spray against the crowd," the statement read. "Eventually, they charged into protesters, chasing and spraying people as they ran away." 

Deputy Chief Ken Kuebler said that in the future, if demonstrators choose to block on-coming traffic, police will use their discretion to enforce order.  

"If protestors move from lawful behavior to unlawful behavior, the division of police will have to make decisions as to what actions to take," Kuebler says. "That might be arrests, that might be uses of mace if necessary to restore order."

As part of an on-going investigation, The Ohio ACLU says they've collected numerous statements from protesters who claim they did not hear orders from police to disperse before mace was used.

The ACLU says they are concerned that the reaction by police was disproportionate to the actions of protestors, who were not rioting or damaging public property.