COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH)– African American community leaders from government, nonprofit and religious sectors in central Ohio are holding a joint press conference Tuesday to reveal steps to “reform practices that create and protect a culture of systemic racism.”
The leaders are calling for immediate action.
Scheduled speakers include:
- Stephanie Hightower, President & CEO, Columbus Urban League
- Congresswoman Joyce Beatty, 3rd District of Ohio
- Kevin Boyce, Franklin County Commissioner
- Shannon Hardin, President, Columbus City Council
- Christie Angel, President & CEO, YWCA Columbus
- Bishop Timothy Clarke, First Church of God
Hardin called on leaders to make police reform a reality this year.
“Columbus needs to establish independent investigations into police use of force, including negotiating a civilian review board into the next police contract,” he said. “The Fraternal Order of Police has long opposed such moves and now I call on them to join us at the table to get this done.”
In addition, Hardin called for changes in the way crowd dispersal techniques are used.
“Stop spraying dangerous gases into peaceful crowds,” he said.
Hardin also called for making the changes recommended in the Matrix report of the Columbus Police Department. The report, released last August, found that more than half of black employees within the Columbus Police Department experienced discrimination and that black Columbus residents had a less positive view of police than the population as a whole.
“Fighting racism is imperative in every sector of our society, not just policing,” he said. “Through race-conscious policy making, we’ve got to unwind generations of racist policies in housing, public health, education, and elsewhere.”
Hardin also called on corporate boards and philanthropic endeavors to fight racial disparities, calling on Columbus’ business leaders to put forward what changes they would make in their own businesses to fight racism.
“Each business will be different, but start by talking to your black and brown employees,” he said. “Listen to them. Maybe in this crucial moment in our history, they will feel safe in saying the things they’ve not felt safe saying in the past.”
Beatty spoke a little about here clash with police at the protest in downtown Columbus on Saturday, where she was hit with pepper spray when trying to calm a situation between police and a protester.
“Over the weekend I was angry, I was frustrated, I was heartbroken, so let me make it clear,” Beatty said. “I went to the march, to the protest as many things. I do not deny that I am a U.S. congresswoman. I do not deny that I consider myself an activist and a leader. But I am also a black woman.”
Beatty also spoke against the violence and vandalism caused by protesters, but added she understood why they were doing it.
“I do not condone tearing up our businesses and our governments because I stood on the floor and fought for trillions of dollars to come back to small businesses, black businesses,” Beatty said. “When we tear them up, it is destructive, but I know we need to be heard.”
Beatty urged everyone to remember those who lost their lives, but said the only way to make progress is to move forward.
“Let me say the question is not for me to answer,” Beatty said. “The question is for us. How many more black men, women, people of color must suffer? How many more must be at the hands of brutal and callous murder? America is watching. The question is for all of us, and this is one step today. The question is, ‘What is justice? Where is justice? How do we heal from past memories or racial terror and lynching when it is still alive today?’”
She added that the group was together Tuesday because racism and hatred are still alive.
Beatty called for community task forces and community reviews, saying she was tired of words that didn’t result in change.
“I want all my constituents, everyone here and listening, that I will not turn my back on them,” Beatty said. “I stand here for the people because what affects any one of us affects all of us indirectly. Never doubt what a small group of committed, thoughtful people can do because indeed that is the only thing that has ever brought change. Change is now, change is up to not me, not us, but to all of us.”
Next, Hardin took the podium.
“Over the last couple of days, over the last week, there’s been a lot of pain out there,” he said. “I want to say, as your city council president that I feel your pain. I want to say to the black mothers and black and brown mothers, I feel your fear. I want to say to the entire community, I sense a part of your exhaustion. I want to say to the protesters that I felt your wooden bullets, I have felt the sting of the spray.”
Hardin added he’s also felt the confusion from business owners who had to leave protests to protect their businesses.
Hardin also mentioned his cousin, a female officer with the Columbus Police, who was hit with rocks and frozen water bottles during the protests.
“So yes, we have to start with feeling one another,” he said. “We have to start with hearing each other. We have to start by listening to one another.”
Hardin urged everyone to have patience as change starts to be made.
“We’re not going to get this right,” he said. “We’re not going to get this perfect. It’s not going to happen overnight. We didn’t get here overnight, so we should not expect the solutions overnight.”
Hardin called on the community to “take a breath,” adding, however, that he is ready to begin making changes.
“Our residents in Columbus and citizens across the nation are speaking out in a thousand ways that we need immediate action. The people are speaking and I hear them. Now we must get to that shared table and use this powerful moment for real change, but Columbus, we cannot get to the table if the table is flipped over and on fire.”
“Let’s get together, let’s work together to create a better Columbus,” Hightower said at the closing of the conference.
The coalition’s key action steps include:
- Recruit and embrace support from throughout the public, nonprofit and private sectors throughout Central Ohio.
- Seek specific partnerships with Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #9, the union representing most law enforcement personnel in Central Ohio, other law enforcement organizations, government, business and nonprofit leaders.
- Call to implement the recommendations put forth in the Matrix Report as well as the Columbus Community Safety Advisory Commission Report. This effort will launch with four high priority objectives: designating an independent investigatory authority to review police use of force; revising and updating police crowd dispersal techniques; improving the quality and depth of cultural competency and racial equity training among all public-serving agencies; and setting a timeline to execute the other recommendations in both reports.
- Advocate that Governor DeWine, Ohio Senate President Obhof and Ohio Speaker Householder to emulate the leadership of Franklin County and the City of Columbus and declare racism as a public health crisis.
- Join with County and City leaders as they propose solutions to address health disparities stemming from racial inequities.
- Directly communicate with people of color and those who often don’t follow or trust mainstream media.
- Cultivate and respond to the ideas and concerns of young leadership.