Why did the police attack at Columbus Pride?

June 29, 2017

Ingrid Raphael and Kristen Godfrey report on a police attack against protesters who tried to bring issues of police brutality to light at Columbus' Pride parade.

SUPPORTERS ARE organizing to demand that charges be dropped against trans and queer activists of color who were attacked and arrested by police at a protest during the Stonewall Columbus Pride parade on June 17.

The 10 activists planned to silently and peacefully block the parade for seven minutes in order to draw attention to the injustices faced by LGBTQ people, specifically police brutality.

As Black Queer Intersectionality Columbus (BQIC), a coalition of LGBTQIA+ community organizers which had two members arrested in the action, explained in a statement, the aim was "to protest the recent acquittal of the police officer who killed Philando Castile" and "to raise awareness about the violence against and erasure of Black and Brown queer and trans people, in particular the lack of space for Black and Brown people at Pride festivals and the 14 trans women of color who have already been murdered this year."

Activists took the streets with a sign that read "What About Us?" stopping the parade for less than 45 seconds before police went on the attack. As police officers used their bikes to forcefully push the protesters back, another officer pulled out his mace and used it within a foot of protesters' faces--including, later, one of the authors of this article.

Police move in to arrest anti-racist LGBTQ activists at the Pride Parade in Columbus
Police move in to arrest anti-racist LGBTQ activists at the Pride Parade in Columbus (Torin Allen)

Police tackled protesters, pinning them down on the ground, three to five cops on one person. They even send in about a dozen cops on horses to surround them.

Police smashed protesters' faces onto the hot concrete, trampled their glasses and twisted their arms as they choked on the mace. Shockingly, some spectators cheered the police as they handcuffed, arrested and dragged them away, as shown in photos circulating on social media.

The police arrested four activists, known to their supporters as the Black Pride 4. Three were charged with misdemeanors of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. The fourth was charged with a felony of aggravated robbery for allegedly attempting to take an officer's weapon, a claim that supporters say video and witness accounts contradict.

IN RESPONSE to the police attack, activists who were part of the Socialist Contingent at Pride, which included members of the International Socialist Organization, Socialist Alternative and the Democratic Socialists, along with Jewish Voices for Peace and the Green Party, immediately rushed to the Franklin County Correctional Center to demand that the four be released.

Organizers across organizations strategized about ways to get the word out on social media and mobilize actions on the ground in their defense. The immediate mobilization proved to be successful: many people shared the bail fund page, called the correctional facility to pressure for the release the Black Pride 4, and shared videos of what happened earlier that morning.

Later that night, the three who were charged with misdemeanors were released on bail. The fourth with the felony charge remained in holding, awaiting arraignment and bail being set, until Monday.

On Monday, June 19, an action organized by BQIC brought out 50 supporters demanding the release of the last member of the Black Pride 4. They were released upon bail and charged with a felony.

The next step for supporters is demanding that all charges be dropped against the Black Pride 4, fundraising for legal fees and holding Stonewall Columbus accountable for contracting the Columbus Police Department (CPD) for the Pride parade.

Stonewall Columbus, the Central Ohio LGBT organization that plans the annual Columbus Pride Event, has remained unclear about its support for the Black Pride 4. In a recent statement, Stonewall Columbus said it had requested a "formal review by the Columbus Police and the Franklin County Sheriff about what occurred during the protests" and "has been in contact with some of the members of the protest, and we are hopeful that we can create a meaningful discussion that will make significant change and heal our hearts."

On June 22, the ISO held a forum on "The Fight for Transliberation" where one of the Black Pride 4 arrested was a speaker. A board member of Stonewall Columbus showed up. The 50 people in the room asked him to take a stand, and he equivocated. He also alluded to Stonewall's statement including the word "condemn." However, this word didn't make the official statement.

Activists also say that the group deleted a statement on its website that it would provide legal assistance to the Black Pride 4.

THE ORGANIZATION behind Columbus Pride, which is named for the Stonewall Inn, the New York City bar where the LGBT movement was born when its patrons rioted against police raids, is taking the side of the police over the trans, queer community of color.

In response, there has been a backlash against the organization from the community, resulting in the voluntary resignation of a Pride coordinator in support of the Black Pride 4. The Pride coordinator has personally condemned the police force's actions, but not its presence at Pride.

Stonewall Columbus needs to take responsibility and condemn the actions of the police and respond to the community's outcry to keep the police out of Pride.

The Columbus Police Department has a long track record of committing acts of violence against Black people. A few of the names of the CPD's victims include Tyre King, a 13-year-old who police shot in the back; Jaron Thomas who was killed by police after he called for help with a mental health issue; and Henry Green who was shot by two plain-clothed police officers last year.

The police who attacked peaceful protesters at Pride are the same ones who murder Brown and Black people in the street. They are also the same cops who police gentrifying neighborhoods that ultimately kick poor and working-class people out in the name of city development.

The Columbus Pride parade went through the Short North, an area that is being heavily gentrified, with housing replaced with high-rise hotels and apartments. The police have proven to be unfit to protect the people, including Pride and communities that are most vulnerable.

The distrust of the police at Pride isn't exceptional to Columbus. This sentiment is shared across the country, with protests against the dominance of corporate sponsors and police at Pride in New York City, Chicago, Seattle and the Twin Cities. Activists should build upon this solidarity and demand that the charges be dropped against the Black Pride 4.

Support the BlackPride4, peaceful protesters who face charges that could alter their lives. A YouCaring page is available to contribute for their legal fees.

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