Over Labor Day weekend a group of Columbus residents took action against the systemic racism that drives police brutality by restricting the lifeblood of the system: corporate profits. They held an economic blackout (or boycott) of all large corporate enterprises, including chain stores and banks.

About 100 protesters kicked off the blackout by marching from Franklin Park to the King Arts Complex, where organizer Karla Carey explained the blackout strategy. “This weekend we’re asking that if you have to spend money, that you reinvest it in the black community, to keep the black community thriving.”

African Americans only spend about 3 to 5 percent of their dollars in black-owned businesses, Carey said. “Economically, we need to have our voices heard. This makes a difference to the big chains and corporations.”

The discussion then turned to police brutality.  “Ron O’Brien has held the office of County Prosecutor for 18 years,” Carey said. “Not one Columbus police officer has been indicted in a police-related shooting. If you’re OK with that, then don’t vote in November. But if you’re not, vote for Zach Klein.

“I’m not endorsing anybody,” Carey said. “I’m endorsing change. Ron O’Brien is endorsed by the FOP. What does that tell you?” A voter registration table was set up for the event.

The crowd heard from Hyme Darson, mother of Trae Darson, who was killed by a Columbus police officer in 2006; the mother of Deaunte Bell, killed by police in October 2015; and Tasha Reeder, mother of Kawme Patrick, killed on June 30. The only victim still alive to speak was Dale Phillips, who was falsely arrested and severely injured by Columbus police in September 2014. Phillips was acquitted of the bogus charges in August of this year.

Community organizer Michael Vinson spoke about the attempt by Columbus Citizens for Police Review to establish a citizens’ review board to hold police accountable for misconduct. “The ballot initiative failed because few were willing to back it up with on-the-ground support, and City Council and the local Democratic Party are hostile to direct forms of democracy,” he said.

“Establishing a citizens’ review board will require huge amounts of social and material resources that we don’t have,” Vinson said. “After examining the efforts of cities across the country that have established citizens’ review boards, I have observed that those review boards never have the power to discipline police officers or set up a legitimate accountability process, because they’re staffed by police officers, city officials, police apologists, and their agents. Citizens’ review boards, as we know them, do the bare minimum to end police brutality and are therefore not worth the effort.”

The electoral strategy is another band-aid solution, Vinson said. “They want us to elect prosecutors like Marilyn Mosby in Baltimore, who failed to hold the officers accountable” in the killing of Freddie Gray. “It wasn’t because Mosby was incompetent. She failed because the electoral strategy is flawed. The problem with the electoral strategy is that people think that they can change the system from the inside out, but the system ends up changing them.”

Vinson advocated replacing the current retributive criminal justice system with a system of transformative justice, which “addresses not only the person who does harm, but also the culture and power dynamics of the community, so that they are also transformed.

“Transformative justice requires revolutionary change, but people whose livelihoods depend on maintaining oppressive social structures aren’t interested in revolutionary change,” he said. “They just want a more comfortable enslavement. So they sit on the sidelines while we protest police brutality.”

Adrienne Hood has participated in public demonstrations for her son Henry Green since June 15, less than two weeks after Green was killed by Columbus police. Early on, Hood’s words and demeanor reflected overwhelming shock and grief. At the blackout protest Hood’s grief was still evident, but her demeanor was fiery and her words expressed a steely determination.  

“I watched the show All Sides with Ann Fisher with the two police officers who filed a discrimination case against their own Columbus Police Department,” Hood said. “The Fraternal Order of Police representative who came to that show said, ‘We protect the system.’ It’s a systemic demon that we’re fighting against.  If we don’t start standing up for ourselves, nobody is going to. We’ve got to fight for everything that we want!

“I want justice and accountability,” Hood said. “Accountability comes with our going to the polls and voting. I don’t know a whole lot about Zach Klein, but I’m going to find out. Just to replace Ron O’Brien may not be a solution. Attorney Bob Fitrakis is also running under the Green Party. We have to do our research to see who really is about change, about getting justice in this city. That’s our responsibility. We have to make the changes that we want to see!”

The Columbus People’s Partnership has invited candidates for Franklin County Prosecutor to a public forum on Wednesday, September 14 from 6 to 8 p.m. Candidates will be asked how they would address officer-involved shootings and systemic racism in the Columbus Division of Police. Candidates Zach Klein and Bob Fitrakis have said they will attend. Incumbent Ron O’Brien has not responded to the invitation.

More blackout protests are being planned to keep building the economic pressure.