Tear Gas, Solidarity and Social Distancing: Citizen Truth Speaks to Activists on the Ground in Columbus and Europe
Citizen Truth spoke to activists and citizens there as well as organizers in Europe about why these demonstrations are important and what needs to change.
America is experiencing the global coronavirus at a more extreme level than many other countries, but another pandemic has ravaged the United States since the first day of its creation. Systemic racism, enslavement and incarceration have been a major part of American economic and social systems since their inception and continue to be so today.
Things have finally reached a boiling point where people are not willing to take it anymore, especially after the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic on all aspects of American life.
Columbus, Ohio has been one of the cities with the most explosive protest movements and police have committed tremendous atrocities and abuses of power against peaceful protesters. Even prominent local politicians such Representative Joyce Beatty have been pepper sprayed and harassed by the police. Citizen Truth spoke to activists and citizens there as well as organizers in Europe about why these demonstrations are important and what needs to change.
Bomani, Activist, Columbus
Everyone needs to pay attention to issues of systemic racism and oppression that have been ignored by the white community for centuries. Bomani explained, “I think everybody should speak their mind regardless of what color you are. It’s incredibly important that we’re all talking about this situation. In order for this to change everybody has to take a stand and come together. Everybody has to be educated and the only way you become educated is by everybody talking about these things.”
In Columbus, the protests have expanded from the downtown area into the majority white suburbs surrounding the city. Bomani thinks that this could finally force the white community to address issues of racism in America that have never been given proper attention. “Now that things are moving into white communities, they can’t just turn their TVs off and forget about it. And now they’re experiencing what it’s like to be scared and realize that your community could get destroyed at any second. People are paying a lot more attention than in the past.”
There have been some instances of property damage during the demonstrations, but the majority of this activity seems to be the work of law enforcement officers and right-wing agitators. Bomani told Citizen Truth that he saw uniformed Columbus Police officers smashing the windows of their own cruiser.
However, even if these activities are primarily the work of angry protesters, there’s a lot of debate over whether these actions are justified or not. Bomani told Citizen Truth, “It is unfortunate because a lot of small businesses and black-owned businesses also got destroyed. I don’t condone the rioting and everything, but it seems like it’s working. So it’s a hard decision. Am I ok with the rioting and burning if it ends up changing things so much that life actually becomes better for minority groups and other people who are discriminated against?”
When asked what he thought were the reasons for the Columbus Police Departments use of tear gas, rubber bullets and other methods of violent force, Bomani answered, “I guess it comes down to the militarization of the police and how they’re trained. We were peacefully protesting at the intersection of Broad Street and High Street and the police came in and blocked everybody in on all sides. All of a sudden, this girl tried to cut around a corner and leave. This cop grabbed her and threw her to the ground as hard as he could and then all hell broke loose. They started shooting people with rubber bullets and all of us got sprayed with mace, but thankfully I was wearing a mask and glasses. Then they started shooting tear gas everywhere. I was actually running around with a spray bottle helping people rinse their eyes out at one point.”
Some of the violent acts committed by police officers in Columbus have been incredibly aggressive and hostile. Bomani told Citizen Truth, “They started shooting rubber bullets, so we started running when I saw them shoot a girl across from me, causing her to fall. She got up and started running so they shot her again when all she was doing was trying to get away. And you know you’re supposed to shoot rubber bullets at the ground, so they ricochet. So I don’t know if they’re necessarily bad cops, but they’re not being trained properly and they’re abusing their power.”
Bomani has been active in organizing some of the demonstrations but believes that some groups are attempting to undermine his efforts and those of other activists. He told Citizen Truth, “There’s this group that’s come out of nowhere called “Black Freedom.” They’re this group of people that seems like they might be linked to Young Life or some organization like that and they’re claiming to speak for all black people. Yesterday they were at the Courthouse giving speeches and I kid you not they were literally taking pictures with the police with thumbs up. I also saw them talking to the police and facilitating things with them pretending to speak for all black people there. I was honestly getting embarrassed being there with some of the things they were saying in their speeches.”
Bomani believes this group might even by helping law enforcement control the demonstrations. Bomani said, “These people are almost definitely working with police. For example whenever we would try to march somewhere, they would try to get ahead and keep people from going down the streets that the cops didn’t want us to go down. I think they’re trying to get these protests to go the way the cops want them to go instead of allowing them to be an actual protest.”
According to Bomani, one of the most important things to remember is that “This isn’t a black problem, this isn’t a white problem, it’s a human problem and it’s extremely important for white people to really see what’s going on.” In times like these it’s absolutely crucial that people who have been denied a voice for centuries finally have the chance to speak, for as Bomani explained, “Unless all of us have a voice than no one has a voice.”
Jake, Activist, Columbus
The city of Columbus has imposed a curfew between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. which has been challenged by a lawsuit in federal court.
Jake explained that “People have still been protesting past ten pm and that’s when things start to get a lot more violent.”
He also said that people don’t like Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther’s response to the situation, particularly regarding the treatment of journalists. Jake told Citizen Truth “Last night there was a student journalist with the lantern who showed their press credentials and then got pepper sprayed immediately after.” He also said that “There seems to be a systematic effort by police to target journalists.”
Columbus Police Officers in riot gear have been out in the streets in full force and there have been major concerns raised about police accountability. Jake told Citizen Truth, “I believe that riot gear for Columbus police doesn’t include body cams or badge numbers so there’s no identification or anything whatsoever.”
Systematic racism and police oppression are a problem throughout the world, and there have been demonstrations in various other countries both to show solidarity with protesters in America and combat issues of racism at home.
Citizen Truth spoke with organizers and activists at a Black Lives Matter event in Santiago de Compostela, Spain to learn why it’s important that this is a global movement.
Anonymous Organizer in Santiago de Compostela, Spain
An organizer of the demonstration in Santiago de Compostela explained why it’s crucial that actions take place not only in the United States, but worldwide. “People here experience racism as well but they don’t have as much of a platform to speak from. So by having this movement be worldwide it is a way to give people a voice to make things better here.”
Joe, American Activist living in Spain
The events occurring right now in America have reminded many people of the civil rights era, especially regarding the hatred and violence directed towards demonstrators by the police. Joe told Citizen Truth, “I grew up watching videos of the civil rights movement and seeing this now it’s just so eerie and frightening. I remember watching these videos as a young boy and thinking ‘how could this even happen?’ But now it’s actually happening again.”
Joe also explained that people who don’t come from communities of color need to understand that “Right now this is actually very traumatic for black people. I will be interested to see who actually keeps up with the movement vocally and physically and who continues to actually show up because a lot of these times we see these trendy hashtags and social media actions like the “blackout” and the next week no one cares. I find to be very disturbing and feel that it shows that many people are not truly invested in the movement.”
Joe was also troubled by videos and photos of police officers who have taped over their body cams and badge numbers, and questioned, “I don’t understand why these cops are covering their badges, are they intending to do something they don’t want to be held accountable for?
Matt, American Activist living in Spain
Compared to the situation in Columbus, demonstrations in Spain have faced little violent opposition from the police and have remained relatively peaceful. Steps are being taken to ensure that actions don’t increase the spread of COVID-19 and organizers have faced far less opposition from local and national governments than their compatriots in the United States.
Due to the intensity of the situation in the US, Matt told Citizen Truth, initially I was a little nervous because I didn’t know how it was going to pan out, but it ended up going very peacefully and smoothly. On the flip side, it could have easily gone awry because there were a ton of cops there that could have escalated things at any point.”
Unfortunately, just as in the United States, not everyone in Spain supports the demonstrations and the general movement. When asked about this, Matt responded, “I feel like there’s a lot of learned racism and people aren’t used to dealing with having anyone take a stand against it. They have generationally learned ideas about certain groups of people and when that gets shook a little bit they just fall apart. And it turns into something ugly and fearful very quickly.”
As Bomani mentioned, it’s important for everyone to stand up for human rights at this pivotal moment, and Matt agrees. “This isn’t just a minority problem this is a global human problem that we’re facing. For the majority of history it’s been white men oppressing communities of cover. Now we need to lift up their stories. We definitely should take every opportunity we can to spread awareness because as a white male I have a great deal of privilege and it’s my responsibility to use that to help oppressed groups and oppressed people in general, not just in the United States but all over the world. we should speak up about things that are happening around us whether it’s in our own country or obviously the country that we live in as well.
Some of the names in this article have been changed to protect activists and organizers