To the residents of
With dried pepper spray tears on my shirt, I am shaken, saddened, and angry.
I’m angry that racist violence against black people seems to change its form
but never ends. I’m shaken at the feeling of powerlessness experienced by so
many when they see visceral racism. And when folks try to grasp power and
take to the streets they face hundreds of police officers maintaining order
while reinforcing the violence inherent in police powers. I’m saddened that
for many watching from the comfort of their homes, the violence of a few on
the fringe will give yet one more excuse to do nothing to challenge the
status quo of racism in America.
I will never forget the burning blindness of indiscriminate pepper spray as I
stood with Congresswoman Joyce Beatty and County Commissioner Kevin Boyce
trying to keep the crowd on the sidewalks. I’m not a natural protester. I
like to sit around a table to hash out policies and plans. But I felt I
needed to show up as a black man because George Floyd should be alive.
Breonna Taylor should be alive. Ahmaud Arbery should be alive. Tyre King
should be alive.
Our residents in Columbus and citizens across the nation are speaking out in
a thousand ways to say we need immediate action. The people are speaking. I
hear them. Now we must get to a shared table and use this powerful voice to
make change real. We cannot do that if the table is on fire.
As a black, gay City Council President of America’s 14th largest city, I know
my story is only possible because of protests past. The beatings, dogs, and
hoses used through the South during Dr. King’s marches and the Stonewall
Riots. We must stand against oppression.
Despite real reasons for anger, I do not excuse the few who walk amongst the
protesters and choose to be destructive. Many of these folks come from
outside of Columbus with their own agendas and are not seeking constructive
change. These are not the protesters I know and am happy to work with.
I also want to acknowledge that our police officers are tired. Many have been
out for days and days, sporting bruises from where they were hit with rocks
and frozen water bottles. Protesters are bruised from wooden bullets and
more. Both sides need time to rest and heal.
We must use this civil unrest to accelerate progress on real, specific reforms
to fight systematic racism.
Later today at Council, Columbus will pass a resolution declaring racism a public health crisis.
Franklin County has already lead the way on this cause, Mayor Ginther
concurs, and we are all united in calling on other levels of regional and
state government to join hands with us in honestly addressing the negative
impacts of racism.
Today I also call on local leaders to help make policing reforms real this
year. We must make concrete moves on the 80 recommendations from the Community Safety Advisory Commission ranging
from recruitment, training, diversity and inclusion, community engagement,
and independent investigations.
Columbus needs to establish independent investigations into police use of
force, including negotiating a Civilian Review Commission into the next
police contract. The Fraternal Order of Police has long opposed such a move,
and I call on them to join us at the table to get this done.
Having experienced it first hand, we need to change the use of crowd
disbursal techniques and stop spraying dangerous gases into peaceful crowds.
The negative impacts far outweigh the temporary control it gives officers.
We must diversify our safety divisions, and train cultural competency for the
dozens of diverse international communities that call Columbus home.
Our Police Chief is working for internal reforms. I want him and every
officer to know that we want you to succeed. But we will not accept the
status quo or those who cover up for egregious past acts of violence on duty.
Fighting racism is imperative in every sector and part of our society, not
just policing. Through race-conscious policy-making, we’ve got to unwind the
generations of racist policies in housing, public health, education, and
elsewhere. On corporate boards and in the philanthropic sector we need to see
clear, measured strategies to combat racial disparities.
I do truly believe that things can get better. As a Christian, I’ve been
thinking a lot about grace over the past couple of days. It’s something we
need to extend to one another now more than ever. And with that renewed
goodwill towards one another, we can move forward with resolve and create a
more just Columbus.
Yours in Service,
Shannon G. Hardin