The Columbus Police Accountability Project says the culture of violence toward Black communities is unchanged after the Ohio capital city’s last Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation more than 20 years ago. Led by Black legal, faith and community leaders, the coalition wants an investigation of the Columbus Police Department (CPD), not a review like the mayor requested, following a series of preventable killings by law enforcement.
Unmoved by Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther’s recent letter requesting federal intervention, the coalition has issued its own demand.
“Mayor Ginther has failed to show any meaningful efforts to reform the CPD, letting police officers run rampant without accountability or regard for human life whatsoever,” said civil rights attorney Sean L. Walton in a statement.
The coalition highlighted a report from The Ohio State University John Glenn College of Public Affairs in its letter. The report evaluated police response to protests last summer. According to the coalition, 6 percent of Columbus officers accounted for half of all use of force reports between 2001 and 2017. Columbus police have a history of justifying the use of force in 99 percent of cases.
The letter also pointed to the dissolution of the city’s vice squad in 2019 due to lethal use of force, sexual harassment, and sexual assault. The Summer Strike Force, a plainclothes team in unmarked cars, was dissolved for similar issues with lethal use of force. Other issues raised in the letter are the lack of diversity and instances of discrimination within the police department and questionable uses of taxpayer funds.
Endorsing organizations include the Amos Project, Everyday People for Positive Change, the Cleveland and Columbus branches of the NAACP, and Ohio Families Unite Against Police Brutality. The ACLU of Ohio, the Columbus Urban League, Ohio Organizing Collaborative, and Black Student Association of The Ohio State University also signed onto the letter.
For many, the killing of 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant was the final straw. Columbus police have killed over 30 people in the past five years, including several children ages 13-17.
“Our children have now been part of a bloodline of trauma that we should all be ashamed of,” said Stephanie Hightower, President, and CEO of the Columbus Urban League. “We have young Black girls who are being adulterated before their [time] and misrepresented, and that needs to stop.”
Rep. Joyce Beatty also requested the DOJ intervene in Columbus. Beatty and other Black elected officials experienced Columbus police brutality first hand last May. Police sprayed Beatty and two other Black elected officials with pepper spray. Columbus City Council President Shannon Hardin was pepper-sprayed alongside Beatty last May. He called a DOJ investigation a start.
“We need to continue advancing reform and rethink what safety means in this city,” Hardin said. Hardin encouraged the coalition’s work. “We will continue to work alongside community members to rebuild trust and make Columbus safer for everyone, regardless of where you live, what zip code you come from, and the color of your skin.”