Man with head in hands, another man posing

Columbus City Council President Shannon Hardin after being maced, left; Joe Motil, right

Last night’s Columbus City Council 4-3 vote that indefinitely tabled an ordinance which would have put limits on the Columbus Division of Police use of chemical agents, helicopters, military-type rifles and “less-lethal” munitions – such as rubber and wooden bullets, which injured numerous peaceful protesters – was especially shocking due to the fact that three Black Democratic City Council members voted against it.

I believe the message these three Black City Council members sends is, they have joined the ranks of #BlueLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter while turning their backs on police reform and the Black Lives Matter movement.

The Black citizens of Columbus and others fighting for reform measures should be outraged over this vote.

The three Black Councilmembers who voted to indefinitely table the ordinance were Council President Shannon Hardin, Priscilla Tyson and Mitchell Brown. Emmanuel Remy, who is not African American, also voted to table. Councilwoman Elizabeth Brown, who wrote the legislation, and Councilmembers Rob Dorans and Shayla Favor (who is African American) voted for the ordinance.

Black City Councilman Mitch Brown’s “no” vote should not have surprised anyone due to his former position as Public Safety Director for the City of Columbus.

Councilwoman Pricilla Tyson, the longest serving City Council member, is a conservative Black woman without an ounce of progressive leanings. Again, her vote is not a surprise. She was elected as Pro Tem in 2016 and passed up as Council President in 2018 to the much more politically controlled Shannon Hardin. It should also be noted that Mitch Brown was Tyson’s only supporter in her effort to become Council President, which probably lends a clue as to why both voted “no”.

Emmanuel Remy’s endorsement of the FOP for his 2019 City Council campaign, and as a “yes man” of Council President Hardin, is a clear indication he will never support any meaningful police reform.

Without question, however, Council President Hardin’s vote is mind-boggling and disconcerting. As we all know, Hardin experienced firsthand the heavy-handed and overly aggressive Columbus police response to peaceful protesters. Hardin was peppered sprayed by Columbus police as he marched peacefully next to US Congresswoman Joyce Beatty.

What’s more, many local activists who have been speaking with Hardin one-on-one, were certain he would take serious actionto demilitarize Columbus police. After his “no” vote, it appears they were played. It shouldn’t come as a surprise though. City leaders have been promising activists for decades they will take action to end police brutality, the over-policing of certain urban neighborhoods and discrimination within the division itself.

Has there been real change over this time? I certainly don’t believe so.

Over the course of this year’s protesting, Hardin has made several comments which would seem to display his support for this ordinance. In the middle of June during protests downtown, Hardin stated, “The Division of police using pepper spray on protesters are out of line with the directives issued last week”.

In early July, the vast majority of more than 900 written testimonies and 100 emails that were sent to City Council supported the demilitarization of police. And during a six-hour virtual meeting about the demilitarization debate, many of the 70 speakers passionately demanded action to demilitarize the Columbus police which showed up for war against peaceful protesters following George Floyd’s death.

Hardin after this virtual meeting said, “People told personal stories about their fears and hopes, and we heard that folks are ready to re-imagine public safety”.

Hardin was also quoted as saying in a press release, “As a Black man helping to raise a young Black man, we need radical changes to our institutions of public safety and our understanding of public safety. I am committed to this because it is my life and my nephew Christians life on the line.”  

Another statement from Hardin issued on the evening of May 30, the day he was pepper sprayed, reads in part, “I’m angry and frustrated. I also saw police going too far, and that’s unacceptable. The people have spoken, and I hear you. The time for commissions and studies is over. The time to institute real reform is now.”

Hardin tweeted earlier that evening, “Columbus needs to change the police divisions crowd-dispersal techniques”.

If the “no” vote on this ordinance doesn’t wake people up to the fact that our City Council is made up of nothing more than political puppets for the Columbus Partnership, developers, and this city’s politically powerful, nothing will.

It is time to recall the whole bunch.