Dave Harewood and Chief Bryant

I trust that you’ve now fully settled into your position as this city’s Chief of Police. You’re not likely to remember me, but we’ve met twice.

The first was during the Faith Forum held at the Mount Herman Missionary Baptist Church last May. Specifically, it was May 31, 2022: two years to the day that the nation first heard of a murder that would galvanize the entire country into a reckoning the likes of which had been long overdue. You were asked a series of difficult questions that day, so I’d completely understand if you’d forgotten about it. In light of recent events, however, it behooves me to repeat it. 

My question then and now are the same: In the event that one of your officers shoots someone under questionable circumstances, what will you do as this city’s chief law enforcement officer?

Our exchange at the town hall became heated when, after taking your very first breath, you said that, as you hadn’t been in a position of power when one of these incidents occurred and couldn’t engage in speculation. I hope you’ve forgiven me for my heated response, if you remember the exchange at all: five weeks before that exchange – April 20, 2021 – an officer under your command shot a teenage girl who’d called the police in the first place. 

Minutes before Officer Nicholas Reardon shot 16-year-old Ma’khia Bryant, she had called the police for help. An hour before that call was made, news had broken that Derek Chauvin, who the entire nation had watched murder George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 31, 2020, had been found guilty of murder. During a press conference immediately after the incident, you described the shooting as “justified.” 

At the meeting on May 31, rather than repeat what you’d said at the press briefing five weeks before, you said to me (and the rest of the audience) the following at the end of our exchange:

“I wasn’t there.”

Ma’Khia Bryant was killed on April 20; you and your Assistant Chief, Ms. Potts, had been sworn in on April 5. I hadn’t recalled your specific swearing-in date at the time but I’ve since been able to verify that, while you weren’t physically present at that incident, you were, in fact, in the very position of power to prevent or substantively respond to an incident with such grievous consequences.

Some more ardent members of the community wouldn’t offer you the grace of a second chance after having caught you in such avoidant behavior, but I believe in everyone’s right to evolve. 

As such, there have since been instances that bear similarly questionable circumstances for which you most certainly have been fully granted the powers of your position. Two immediately come to mind:

At approximately 2 am on August 30, 2022 on the westside, K-9 Officer Ricky Anderson shot 20-year-old Donovan Lewis in the stomach while the young man was in his bed. Donovan died in the hospital.

Mid-afternoon on Sunday, February 5, 2023 on the southside, Officer Joshua Ohlinger shot 66-year-old Michael Cleveland squarely in the lower spine while fleeing a causeless traffic stop toward a peace march. In dash cam footage, Officer Ohlinger can be heard say “Oh fuck! That’s Michael Cleveland!” before his partner initiates the pull-over. 

Obviously there are layers to each of these incidents that make each unique and, in the case of Donovan’s murder, you have enacted the most obvious of reforms by prohibiting the execution of domestic violence warrants in the middle of the night. Speculation as to why a K-9 unit would be sent to execute a domestic violence call against a Black male are probably counter-productive, but the optics of the presence of said dog certainly conveys a troubling historical reflection I’m sure you’re familiar with. 

It’s also of note that Officers Anderson and Ohlinger are white. Donovan was mixed and identified as Black; Mr. Cleveland – who is likely paralyzed – is Black. Officer Anderson, a 20-plus veteran of the force, has had multiple complaints lodged against him over the years but has yet to be censured. Several days before Officer Anderson fatally shot young Mr. Lewis, Officer Ohlinger had shot a Black juvenile, also in the back, also in relation to a traffic stop.  

I reiterate, Chief Bryant: you are now very much “here.” Under your leadership the very issues over which the community at large has raised alarms over the years vigorously continue.

I’d initially begun this letter to ask what, now, you will do of substance to cease these senseless shootings – often in the back, often juveniles, and almost always Black or BIPOC by white officers – but a recent announcement by your assistant chief clearly indicates the tenor of any answer you might give – or dodge:

It was recently announced that Sgt. Shawn Gruber had been appointed leader of a renewed gang response unit. I say “renewed” because it’s been re-created and re-named by several of your predecessors, inevitably to be disbanded due to a cavalcade of complaints of excessive force by the very people you’re charged to “protect and serve.”

While it’s gone by many names, the community’s label for it has been consistent throughout: Jump Out Boys, called such for their tendency to “jump Out” of unmarked SUVs to harass the public.

In 2016, Jump-Out Boys Zachary Rosen and Jason Bare, shot and killed 23-year-old Henry Green in South Linden. The last shot he received was through the back of his left shoulder.

In 2017, then-officer Gruber had been successfully sued for excessive force. Your Deputy Chief is now giving this man command over a unit whose history of violence against Black people is very well known.

On Monday, February 13 – eight days after one of officer Ohlinger’s bullets struck Mike Cleveland squarely in the lower spine – Mr. Cleveland’s family, his attorney, and several organizations dedicated to justice for and the protection of Columbus’ most vulnerable, sent a list of demands to the Mayor in reaction to the latest example of a rogue police force unchecked by its leadership without significant social pressure. 

We gave the City seven days to respond.

Eight days will have passed by the time this letter goes public. Your employers are notorious for ignoring the people’s request for a response.

You are now very much “here” and the people demand answers. What is your response?