COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Columbus City Council President Shannon Hardin says he, Franklin County Commissioner Kevin Boyce and Congresswoman Joyce Beatty were sprayed with mace or pepper spray during a protest in downtown Columbus Saturday morning.
Council President Hardin tweeted a video with Rep. Beatty saying that they are okay, and called on people on both sides of the protest to remain calm.
Beatty said in an interview later Saturday that the pepper spray was “prolific.”
“I don’t remember hearing anyone saying, ‘Move or we’re going to pepper spray,’” Beatty said. “Councilman Hardin got the brunt of it and he was in the middle of the sidewalk.” She added that she didn’t think the pepper spray was necessary.
“I heard no warning,” she said. “Obviously if someone had said and held up a pepper spray and said, ‘I’m gonna pepper spray,’ we would have moved. Nobody wants to be pepper sprayed, trust me.”
A spokesperson for Beatty told NBC4 that while the protest was underway, someone started scuffling with police. Police took that person down, which made other protesters angry. Beatty stepped in to try and calm the situation when police started spraying. Hardin and Boyce pulled Beatty out of the fray.
“We understand that tensions are high. Our tensions are high as well. We are angry, and we need change. But the only way we will get change is by peaceful demonstrations,” said Hardin.
“While it was peaceful, there were times where people got off the curb, into the street, said Beatty. “Too much force is not the answer this.”
Beatty said Saturday’s protest was more peaceful than the protests on Friday night, when stores and businesses were damaged, saying she wanted to be there to support the organizers of Saturday’s protest.
“I can tell you 95 percent of the folks were amazing,” Beatty said.
She said that in the last 20 minutes she was in the area are when things began to take a turn with the arrival of police on bicycles.
“Whatever happened last night, which I am totally against – breaking into buildings, marking up city hall – I am totally against that,” Beatty said. “But there was none of that today and I kept saying to the officers, ‘Do not excite them, do not excite them.’”
Beatty added that a handful of protesters got off the sidewalks and into the streets, which is what prompted the police response.
“Before we knew it, the bikes were going up against a young sister standing next to me,” she said. “A gentleman was knocked to the ground and then you know what happened. People start pushing and shoving. I got caught in the middle of it.
Beatty said Hardin was pepper sprayed more than she was, adding Boyce was there and managed to get Beatty out of the way.
Beatty said she came out to support those protesting injustice.
“The message we want to have is we need to be in this together,” Beatty said. “We need to be fighting against the injustices, fighting against racism and tensions are high when you think about George Floyd, but when you are out there and you come in an antagonistic way, it only excites a riot.”
She is asking protesters to stop “tearing up” the city and asking officers to stop antagonizing protesters, adding the officers were too aggressive toward excited protesters who were on the sidewalk who “may have had a toe off the sidewalk.”
“I was there because I wanted the young protesters to know that in solidarity that I stand with them,” Beatty said. “You know, I’m a grandmother, I’m an elected official, but I’m a black woman first and I felt the pain. So I was there on the edge of the sidewalk when it all happened, wanting to support and feeling the need to protect this young sister. She was very vocal, but that’s freedom of speech. To push and shove and use a bicycle against her, I just think there could have been a better way.”
Hardin released the following statement Saturday night:
“I’m angry and frustrated. Folks are being shot down while jogging and suffocating under the knee of injustice. Today, I saw with my own eyes that 99 percent of protesters were just trying to make their voices heard, while some individuals in the crowd were attempting to take advantage of the situation. I also saw police going too far, and that’s unacceptable. The people have spoken, and I hear you. The time for commissions and studies is over. The time to institute real police reform is now.
“Columbus needs to establish independent investigations into police use of force, including negotiating a Civilian Review Commission into the next police contract. Columbus needs to change the use of crowd dispersal techniques, as recommended by the Matrix report. And finally, Columbus needs to quickly move forward to implement the Community Safety Advisory Commission’s recommendations and the rest of the Matrix report.”
The Matrix report is a review of Columbus law enforcement conducted by a team of consultants, employees of the Division of Police, city staff and the community working together since the winter of 2018-19.
Beatty urged the protesters to recognize the difference between standing up to injustices and causing injustice.
“If you’re going to be out there causing injustice and destroying property and looting and doing any of those things, that it is more destructive and that’s not the way we gain what we’re all in this for and that’s to bring justice,” she said. “I’ll be the first to stand with them, but we cannot tear up our own communities and our own buildings because that’s not going to accomplish anything.”