Columbus African Council Plans March As City Leaders Consider Police Reforms

Jun 26, 2020

Protests against racial inequities in policing continue in Columbus this weekend, after Mayor Andrew Ginther and Columbus City Council both propose ideas for reforms and great oversight.

For those continuing to march, however, proposals aren't enough.

“One of the things I would like to see is action,” says Dontavius Jarrells, founder of the Columbus African Council. “I think that that is the question that is on the minds of a lot of residents across the city.”

The Columbus African Council plans an "International March for Black Lives" on Saturday from City Hall to the Statehouse.

It comes on the heels of a week of heightened criticism against the city's response to demonstrations. Last Sunday, Columbus Police donned riot gear and used pepper spray to clear some of the protesters from streets, despite recent city reforms on the use of chemical agents.

“I just think what happened on Sunday, and some of the heavy handedness, is definitely uncalled for and it’s something that needs to change,” Jarrells says. “The reality is there are other strategies that wasn’t employed to, I don’t want to say control the crowd, but to provide a safe space for the crowd to protest peacefully.”

Ginther says pepper spray should only be used when protesters get violent or aggressive. At Sunday’s protest, a man was arrested for throwing a scooter at police. But members of Columbus Council say the indiscriminate use of pepper spray nevertheless violated department policy.

Both Columbus Council and Ginther are advocating for a Civilian Review Board to examine complaints about police. 

“We have to think critically about what systemic change will that body able to employ, and what policies can be reformed based upon the recommendations of that body as a whole,” Jarrells says. “How can this body be influential in changing the tactics that police use?"

Ginther has said he does not support defunding police, which many protesters have advocated for. But city leaders have indicated they are open to rethinking the many roles required of police.

Jarrells says he's optimistic there can be positive change.

“I don’t want to necessarily get caught up in how the words are, but essentially it is all about making sure we allocate resources for the betterment of Columbus residents," Jarrells says.

Columbus City Council members on Thursday announced their own initiatives, including a review of the Columbus Police budget and of the department's use of military-grade equipment. Members want to have third-party investigations of police use-of-force incidents, and are also calling for more investments in social programs.

“The policies, as a whole, are really, really good as a first step,” Jarrells says. “Just really making sure that we are investing in those supports that really ensure that we’re providing comprehensive, social wellness programs for families to thrive here in the city.”