On October 3 the People’s Justice Project and Columbus City Council shared the podium on the south side of City Hall.

The political atmosphere in Columbus has been tense in the week since protesters shut down a City Council meeting. Activists seeking justice in the police killings of Ty’re King and Henry Green have been waiting to see how City Council would respond.

On Monday members of the People’s Justice Project gathered on the south steps of City Hall with all members of City Council and some of Mayor Ginther’s staff.

“We’re here because we’re tired of being told to wait and to just be quiet,” said Tammy Alsaada, an organizer with the People’s Justice Project. “We’re tired of young people in our communities being killed at the hands of police. We are committed to continuing to demand justice.

“Members of our coalition met with local officials two years ago, after the death of Tamir Rice, because we were afraid the same thing could happen here in Columbus,” Alsaada said. “Our calls were ignored.”

After Henry Green was killed in June by plainclothes police officers, community groups groups organized in the Linden and King Lincoln districts and held protests.  The People’s Justice Project issued a report about best practices and co-hosted a candidates’ forum. “We called for an independent prosecutor and asked the city to reevaluate policing strategies like the controversial Summer Safety Initiative, formerly known as the Summer Strike Force,” Alsaada said.

Numerous protests and vigils were held for 13-year-old Ty’re King — killed by Columbus police in September — including the non-violent direct action at City Council and a vigil outside Mayor Ginther’s house last week.

“Council President Zach Klein and other members of City Council have met with us to hear our concerns, and have agreed to work with us around our priorities — namely, to re-evaluate the Summer Safety Initiative, and to consider funding options that support prevention and intervention programs, instead of just prison and policing,” Alsaada said.

City Council President Zach Klein took the mike. “We could not be the government the people deserve without community participation,” he said. “We embrace dialogue, we embrace criticism, and we embrace ideas. We are listening, and we hear you.

“After discussing the Summer Safety Initiative with the People’s Justice Project and other community leaders, I am convinced that this program needs to be re-evaluated,” Klein said. “But we can only make the right improvements if we work together. I am committed to working with all my Council colleagues, Mayor Ginther, the Department of Public Safety, and you, the community, to make the necessary changes to the Summer Safety Initiative, so that it is truly a program that makes us safer.”

Klein’s placing the community at the end of a long list of stakeholders may be an indicator of how much weight community input will carry.

A crowd of about 200 cheered both speakers. But Alsaada added a warning. “We reserve our right to protest if the mayor and City Council are not willing to move real money for real solutions in their 2017 budget,” Alsaada said. “It’s our responsibility to make the voices of our community heard.”

Making some kind of concession was politically necessary for Council President Klein, for two reasons.

  1. Klein is running for County Prosecutor against 18-year incumbent Ron O’Brien on a platform that includes more openness and transparency. Refusing to engage with the Black Lives Matter movement would cost him a lot of votes in November.
  2. The People’s Justice Project said that they would return to City Council this week. It wouldn’t be politically expedient to either bar protesters from the Council meeting, or allow them in and be forced to arrest them. See Reason #1.

Klein made no specific commitments beyond agreeing to re-evaluate the Summer Safety Initiative and to include the community in the process. It remains to be seen what will actually change in Columbus policing practices before, and after, the November election.

Afterward the crowd marched to the Franklin County courthouse and held a rally to protest Prosecutor O’Brien’s refusal to appoint an independent prosecutor in the police killings of Henry Green and Ty’re King.

Bob Fitrakis, the Green Party candidate for Franklin County Prosecutor, wants to eliminate the Summer Safety Initiative, and also supports an independent civilian review board to oversee cases of police brutality and other misconduct. Fitrakis has also pledged that if elected, he will appoint an independent prosecutor for controversial police shootings.