Black and white photo of police harassing black people in the street and a drawing of four black people holding their fists in the air and the words Drop the Charges Against the BlackPride4

Photo by Torin Jacobs
Illustration by Ren Hiromi

Commentary by Bob Fitrakis

This incident has to be categorized as a vicious, unnecessary unprovoked attack by the police.

It’s commendable that Columbus, as a city, openly embraces and supports Pride and the LGBTQIA+ community with the Leveque Lincoln tower turning rainbow colors every June. Mainstream media and corporations hype the yearly parade.

Unquestionably, Columbus is considered a gay friendly city – if you’re white.

If you’re black and gay, queer, trans or a supporter of any of them, watch out! Whether you know it or not you appear to pose a threat to police and some members of the white (and gay community).

It’s time for Columbus to get over its pervasive racist tendencies and respect the black LBTQ and trans citizens who also live, work, pay taxes and vote in this community. It’s time to respect black people in this city, period.  

You have probably heard the story or seen the videos of what happened to the BlackPride4. Columbus Police attacked and arrested peaceful young black demonstrators less than 20 seconds into a vigil during the June 17 Pride parade in Columbus, according to witnesses and video.

Years ago, I could never imagine Columbus Police so dedicated to ensuring gays could march in a Pride parade they couldn’t stand it being stopped for one moment.

The BlackPride4 statement reads, in part:

“On June 17th, 2017, a group of queer and trans people of color silently stepped into the streets to interrupt the fanfare of the Columbus Pride Parade. Their intent was to block the procession for seven minutes in peaceful, silent protest; their intentions were to call attention to the violence that Black trans women suffer nationwide, in addition to the marginalization that queer and trans people of color face within the larger LGTBQIA+ community.

These freedom fighters stood for less than a minute before they were violently accosted by the Columbus Division of Police. Video footage shows the officers ramming the protestors with bikes, macing them at close range, shoving them down onto the concrete, chasing them down on horseback etc. Of these protestors, four were arrested: Wriply Bennet, Kendall Denton, Ashley Braxton and Deandre Miles.

After considering  how Pride’s legacy is rooted in rebellion, one can’t help but feel viscerally outraged upon watching CPD officers pummel, mace and detain nonviolent queer and trans activists of color during the Columbus Pride Parade. Wriply, Ashley and Kendall face misdemeanor charges; Deandre faces a charge of aggravated robbery due to allegations that they attempted to disarm an officer. Not only are these charges erroneous, but if taken to trial, they would also have lasting, damaging effects on each of their lives.”

Denton, Braxton and Bennet were charged with misdemeanors ranging from resisting arrest to disorderly conduct. Braxton and Bennet are facing up six months in jail and $1000 fines and Denton up to 90 days and a $750 fine. Miles was charged with a first-degree felony for allegedly trying to take a policewoman’s gun and currently made bail set at $100,000 looking at three to ten years in prison and up to a $20,000 fine.

The following is a statement from Deandre Miles, the BlackPride4 member charged with a felony at the time of printing.

“To those concerned with my current predicament and others yet unaware, an open letter of notes: I left home, Prince George’s County, Maryland, on May 30th to participate in summer research in Linguistics at the Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, expecting to explore some aspect of language and gender studies. The plan was to complete the Summer Research Opportunities Program, return home until September, and fly to England to spend the penultimate semester of my Emory University education studying abroad at the University of Sussex. On Saturday, June 17th, I linked arms with champions of freedom at the 2017 Stonewall Columbus Pride Parade. We stood for humanity, peace, and inclusion. We were met with violence.”

Shame on the Columbus Police

Here are key questions for the Columbus Division of Police:

Why was the group attacked by the Columbus Police? Who was victimized by their peaceful action? They stood silent and still on a street already blocked off by police for the parade. 

What was the threat? ABC6 reported police said they were addressing a “threat.” Video shows peaceful people, standing still, observing a moment of silence...who are they threatening?

Who complained about it? No one was actually prevented from marching in the parade because the police attacked first. Brian Whitley's video shows parade floats in the parade, passing on by.

Who called the police? Why were the police standing by, ready to pounce? Lori Gum, Stonewall Festival Coordinator, made this public statement, “First and foremost, to my knowledge, neither Stonewall as an organization, nor any individual affiliated with Stonewall, asked, demanded, or called for the removal of the protestors from the parade. If anyone would have the call, it would have been me or Karla Rotham, who was also marching in the parade.”

“I received no communication regarding the protest until it was over. Let me say unequivocally that, to my knowledge, Stonewall Columbus did not ask that the protestors be removed,” Gum stated. She reveals that in her “conversation with high-level CPD officials after the was stated that Chief Jacobs had indeed given the order to prevent the parade from being stopped or rerouted under any circumstances.”

Were police tipped off that there would be an action? TV news reports on the evening on June 17 and the website “Narrative Collapse” reported police had a “tip.” The NBC4 online report stated, “Police say someone tipped officers off about a group of protesters blocking off the parade route.”

Why use excessive force? There was no violence involved in the incident until police on bikes started shoving the demonstrators. Gum revealed in her statement that Stonewall Executive Director Rotham personally called CPD Chief Kim Jacobs and requested that the police “do everything in their power to de-escalate protest situations to avoid any violent police interaction with or harm to protesters.”

The police were likely hyped up because of a threatening message someone posted on Facebook earlier in the week, stating that he hoped the parade turned out like the Boston Marathon. Possibly frustrated by no terrorist activity at the parade, the massive police force ended up attacking peaceful LBTQ demonstrators.

How do Columbus Police officers get so easily injured?  You would think the Columbus Police Department would be too humiliated to admit they injured themselves while attacking peaceful demonstrators. The media emphasized one officer tearing their ACL. Braxton, who was there as a legal observer, alleges that the officer was hurt by tripping over their bike while attacking the demonstrators.

Columbus Police should be embarrassed to read this in the statement of Officer N. Reaper: “Uniformed Peace Officers and a SWAT over-watch Officers observed the eminent parade disruption….Two suspects refused to exit the roadway and were identified as the primary aggressor. One of the suspects violently pulled away from Officer Hilgenberg causing Officer Hilgenberg to use an arm bar takedown towards the pavement. The suspect continued resisting Officer Hilgenberg and during the course of the brief physical encounter the suspect and Officer Hilgenberg forcefully fell to the pavement causing an injury to Officer Hilgenberg’s left knee. An officer in trouble call was aired over the Police Radio and several officers responded to Officer Hilgenberg’s call for assistance.”

According to a police report, Hilgenberg had a bloody left knee so painful it was difficult to walk. This officer was injured due to the nature of the violent attack on the demonstrators.

Shame on the Racism

A few more inquires for the Columbus Police and people of the city of Columbus:

Why were only black demonstrators arrested? There were white people in the group. Although we see in the video police shoving and grabbing white demonstrators, somehow they escaped arrest. This fits into pattern of Columbus Police behavior lately, harkening back to the anti-Trump rally on High Street in January, when certain black protestors alleged they were targeted by police who sprayed mace in their faces. Of course it makes a better news story, on how black protestors attacked the police.

Photos and video shamefully expose the knee-jerk racist tendencies of some of the white people watching the parade and the police attack. Some cheered when the police led the BlackPride4 away and one bystander allegedly spit on them.

Why are the police “selectively enforcing the law?” Every year there are “God Hates Fags” protesters at the Pride parade and they’ve never been brutalized by the police. Why do police allow extremist mostly white, homophobes chanting “Blue Lives Matter” to disrupt the parade route? Contrast that to the immediate assault on the black LGBTQ group.

Imagine a group of Irish-American demonstrators holding a silent vigil to free Northern Ireland during the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Columbus police assaulting them with bikes, slamming them to the ground, arresting them on dubious charges. It is unimaginable.

Shame on the Media

Shame on the local media, particularly the evening news reports on June 17, focusing on the supposedly injured police officers. Many of the online reports included this line: “The Columbus Division of Police said four people were arrested and two officers were hurt during the Columbus Pride Festival on Saturday.”

The media did not focus on the fact people in the crowd and demonstrators were harmed by the attack and from mace sprayed by police during the incident.

NBC4 had the words “Provoking Police” on the screen with an officer saying "Some people are always trying to provoke us" during their TV news report about the incident, complaining that too many people were videotaping their actions.

ABC6 also referred to a “skirmish” between black “protesters” and police. First of all, the group was not “protesting” anything, they were attempting to hold a silent vigil. Yes, they intended to block the parade to make their point, this is called nonviolent civil disobedience. It has been used as a tactic in activism from Gandhi, to the Civil Rights Movement, to the Occupy movement and more. It should be noted that their action occurred at the end of the parade route.

In reality, there was no “skirmish.” The police ambushed and assaulted the demonstrators. ABC6 also featured police stating that only “minor” use of force was used.

Does the media know who the BlackPride4 are? ABC6 News reported the following: “Ed Hasson of the Columbus Division of Police said the four people attempted to stop the parade and were arrested on disorderly conduct charges….Hasson said the protesters were linked to Black Lives Matter.” Other news outlets assumed the group were representing Black Lives Matter. According to the BlackPride4, they are not affiliated with a Black Lives Matter group. Bennet and Braxton are associated with Black Queer and Intersectional Columbus (BQIC), “a group of people dedicated to uplifting Black LGBTQIA+ folx thru community service, education and creating space.”

Shame on Stonewall Columbus

Six days after the parade, Gum officially resigned as Pride Festival Coordinator and Program Coordinator at Stonewall Columbus. Gum cited the inability of the organization to issue a “meaningful statement regarding the parade incident.” Stonewall and its Director Karla Rotham have been called out on social media by many community members noticing the absence of a supportive statement.

The tepid nature of the Stonewall statement is reflected in this paragraph: “We have requested a formal review by the Columbus Police and the Franklin County Sheriff about what occurred during the protest, subsequent arrests and detention. We are and will simultaneously initiate conversations with community partners, Columbus Police Department and Franklin County Sheriffs.” Critics of the statement note that they are asking the police to investigate themselves and mentioned discussing the incident with the police, but not the BlackPride4.  As of this Free Press printing, Stonewall has yet to issue a “meaningful” statement. 

Ironies Abound

The message the BlackPride4 intended with the vigil has been lost in the media frenzy. The meaning of the seven minutes of silence and the subsequent police attack are rich with irony.  The demonstration had several purposes, ironically concerning police brutality and highlighting the lack of support for queer and trans people of color.

In a statement, BQIC announced one aim of the vigil was “to protest the recent acquittal of the police officer who killed Philando Castile.” Recall that Castile was fatally shot by a police officer seven times while sitting in his car with his girlfriend and 4-year old daughter after being pulled over for a broken brake light. There were similar demonstrations going on all over the nation regarding the acquittal of the officer involved.

The statement also noted the vigil was "to raise awareness about the violence against and erasure of Black and Brown queer and trans people, in particular the lack of space for Black and Brown people at Pride festivals and the 14 trans women of color who have already been murdered this year." One trans murder victim of color was JoJo Striker of Toledo, found shot dead in an empty parking garage on February 8, this year.

In response to those wondering why this vigil was held during the Pride parade: It is GAY Pride parade, remember? This was the Black Queer and Intersectional group promoting awareness of their cause and the murders of trans people of color. It makes sense. The ultimate irony is that the police rioted at a parade held by Stonewall Columbus, an organization named after an uprising in New York City in 1969, led in part by trans women of color.  

Here’s the last irony. As Columbus Monthly noted, Columbus Police Chief “Kim Jacobs is the city's first gay, female police chief.”

As people fight against the right-wing exploitation of the trans bathroom issue and the Trump administration’s homophobia, maybe they need to watch more closely the prevailing attitudes in our liberal, Democratically-controlled Columbus.

Support statements for the BlackPride4

Many in the Columbus community were outraged, from either witnessing the actions of the Columbus Police in person or by watching the videos online. Here are some formal statements from some supporting the BlackPride4, and some calling for all charges to be dropped. All four of the arrested demonstrators are awaiting trial and raising money for legal expenses.

Supporters can donate at

Dkeama Alexis, Co-founder of Black Queer & Intersectional Columbus (BQIC)
In the wake of the violence that occurred at the Columbus Pride Parade, we as an unbreakable, unshakeable community are clamoring for our demands to be met:

·         The charges against each of the #BlackPride4 must be dropped. Police presence at Pride festivals is an insult and threat to all LGTBQIA+ people of color in attendance; police have never protected or served us. It is historically evident that police officers’ have utter disregard for the rights and lives of queer and trans people of color – what happened at Columbus Pride further testifies to that truth. Simply put, the protestors should have been given their seven minutes, not subjected to brutality at the hands of the state.

·         Stonewall Columbus must be held accountable for their refusal to display unconditional support for the #BlackPride4 and for their lack of follow-through on promises they’ve made. If an organization claims to serve the entire LGBTQIA+ community, they should have no difficulty condemning police violence against queer and trans people of color. The fact that they have yet to do so shows that they’re more worried about alienating sponsors and ruining their bottom line, and not about the lives of our most vulnerable LGBTQIA+ community members.

·         There must be an investigation into CPD’s excessive use of force against the Columbus Pride protestors. CPD is notorious for their horrific behavior towards Black people and people of color. We have had ENOUGH.
We will not rest until the #BlackPride4 get justice – none of us are free until all of us are free.

Showing Up for Racial Justice
The violent actions taken by Columbus police illustrate that police forces have no interest in keeping Black and brown communities safeーespecially queer and trans communities of color. Pride draws its roots from the Stonewall Rebellion of 1969, which was a rebellion against police brutality by queer folks of color. Now, almost 50 years later, the response of CPD reinforces the need to keep police out of Pride. While the #BlackPride4 were being maced and arrested, white folks in the crowd laughed and cheered on the police. The photo that has been circulating bears a frightening resemblance to photos from the Civil Rights Movement of white onlookers protesting integration of schools and lunch counters. Those of us in SURJ Columbus who identify as LGBTQ know that the relative safety that many LGBTQ white folks feel today is due to decades of brave resistance by people like the #BlackPride4. Those of us who identify as LGBTQ within SURJ call upon our white siblings to join in the movement being built to support the #BlackPride4 and to call our white LGBTQ siblings in who may feel hesitant or who may downright deny the violence the #BlackPride4 have faced. The institution of white supremacy is killing Black LGBTQ people.

We are devastated and appalled by the video of Columbus Police assaulting these non-violent protesters. Wripley, Ashley, Kendall and Deandre went to the Pride parade to raise their voices to the Columbus LGBTQ community, and were met with the same violence and anti-Blackness that killed Charleena Lyles, Raelynn Thomas, Brittany Nicole Kidd-Stergis, Tamir Rice and so many other names that we have been chanting in the streets. The actions taken by police during Columbus Pride are further evidence that police forces have no incentive or ability to keep our communities safe -- especially queer and trans people of color. Their presence in our neighborhoods and places of celebration and resistance must be challenged.

Equitas Health
We want to acknowledge that LGBTQ people of color have not always had the opportunity to have a voice in our community. During moments like this we are also reminded of the LGBTQ community’s long history of staging acts of civil disobedience in order to be heard. Today we lift up their voices and ask our community to listen. Pride has always been an opportunity to gather together in solidarity. We join the call for a community dialogue around this issue to move forward and we extend our support to our community partner Stonewall Columbus as they work to evaluate this incident.

Buckeye Region Anti-Violence Organization (BRAVO)
BRAVO fully embraces the reality that racism, genderism, sexism, heterosexism, ageism, classism, ableism, transphobia, homophobia, biphobia and all other forms of oppression are intrinsically linked. When one of us is hurt…when one of us is harmed we all are harmed. We stand with our community, our entire communities in opposition to all forms of oppression and violence, hate violence, interpersonal violence and state violence. PRIDE is a March; a movement born of a resistance to state violence against our communities. We join others in our community calling for justice for the Black Pride4. We call for hard conversations, we welcome uncomfortable conversations and creating safe spaces for those conversations. We pledge to continue the hard work of coming together to seek unity, equality and safety for all.

Equality Ohio
...We urge...that charges be dropped for all protesters, and that an investigation into this use of force be undertaken.

Yellow Spring Arts Council
The police violently attacked and tried to silence the message of Black and allied queer and trans folks at Columbus pride holding space for a moment of silence for Philando Castile, holding up the need for resources for Black queer and trans folks in Ohio. They are up against trumped up charges and need our support for legal fees and solidarity against racist police violence. We are singing and dancing and spitting poetry in the face of the police state and raising funds for our family.

International Socialist Organization/SocialistWorker
In response to the police attack, activists who were part of the Socialist Contingent at Pride, which included members of the International Socialist Organization, Socialist Alternative and the Democratic Socialists, along with Jewish Voices for Peace and the Green Party, immediately rushed to the Franklin County Correctional Center to demand that the four be released. ...The distrust of the police at Pride isn't exceptional to Columbus. This sentiment is shared across the country, with protests against the dominance of corporate sponsors and police at Pride in New York City, Chicago, Seattle and the Twin Cities. Activists should build upon this solidarity and demand that the charges be dropped against the Black Pride4.