January 20 was marked by protests across the U.S. against the inauguration of Donald Trump. One of several actions in Columbus was a march to the downtown police station and City Hall to call on Mayor Ginther to demilitarize the police force.
“Trump ran on a platform of ‘law and order,’ which we know is nothing but a dog whistle for violent racist policing — something he made abundantly clear throughout his campaign,” said Pearl Morgan, an organizer with Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), a group that organizes white people to fight against racism. “He openly encouraged violence against protesters at his rallies, seeming to view it as entertainment,” she said.
“We fear that Trump will fulfill his campaign promises to financially support and empower local police departments in their crackdown on our communities,” Morgan added. “That is why we demand that Columbus reject Trump’s plans for our police department, just as the voters of Franklin County rejected Trump on election day.”
Franklin County voters overwhelmingly supported Hillary Clinton in the presidential election, with Clinton winning 60% of the votes compared to Trump’s 34%.
The march began at Bicentennial Park. On the way to the police station, about 35 marchers stopped outside Milestone 229, where a retirement party for Police Lieutenant Francis was under way. They stood outside the glass walls of the restaurant, silently holding up their signs. The partygoers didn’t interact with the protesters, but they took photos through the glass.
Drivers honked and waved as the march proceeded to the police station on Marconi Blvd. Outside the station they “took a knee” for Ty’re King in silence for five minutes, then chanted, “Justice for Henry Green! Justice for Ty’re King!” Police on bicycles were visible in the area, but kept their distance.
City Hall is supposed to be open to the public until 5 p.m., but when the protesters arrived at 4:50 a security guard stopped them at the door and barred them from entering. “He said that we were not allowed in at all, that we needed to have an appointment,” said SURJ organizer Tynan Krakoff. “He gave us a form to fill out and said we needed to give 4 weeks advance notice.”
The protesters circled up outside City Hall and used a megaphone to shout their demands: that the city demilitarize its police force, and that the Columbus Police Department return its Long-Range Acoustic Device, or LRAD.
“The LRAD is a deafeningly loud crowd control device that can cause permanent hearing loss,” Krakoff said. “That the Columbus Police acquired the LRAD without any transparency or oversight is frightening.
“The police only obtained the LRAD after mass protests swept the city in response to police killings of Black youth, including Ty’re King and Henry Green,” Krakoff added. “We’re here to demand that Mayor Ginther step up and force the Columbus Police to return its LRAD.”
The Columbus Division of Police acquired its LRAD in November through a $40,000 Homeland Security grant. “A lot of people think it’s some space-age device where you’re going to curl up and start bleeding from your ears and eyes,” SWAT unit supervisor Lt. Paul Ohl told the Columbus Dispatch. “But it’s not. It’s just an annoying, rhythmic, pulsating-type tone where it’s just not comfortable to stay in the area.”
The LRAD was developed for use in the military. Its first use on U.S. civilians was during the 2009 G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh. Professor Karen Piper was observing a protest when an LRAD was activated nearby. She experienced excruciating pain and permanent nerve damage, and filed a lawsuit against the City of Pittsburgh.
“I am grateful that my case will serve as a deterrent to future users of the LRAD,” Piper said after winning $72,000 in compensation from the city. “The LRAD should have no place on our American streets.”
“What’s with the army gear? I don’t see a warzone here,” the protesters chanted outside Columbus City Hall. “The LRAD is a tool of war. Send it back and say no more!”