“It was classic over-policing by the Columbus Police”
Women at protest holding Free Press

Photos by Paul Becker

Video obtained by the Free Press from a Thursday, May 28 Columbus protest against the murder of Geroge Floyd in Minneapolis, depicts peaceful demonstrators sitting down facing a phalanx of bicycle cops as officers suddenly begin spraying them in the face without warning. 


The video circulated briefly on Facebook but has been removed by Facebook least four times.

Mainstream news account of the incidents blame the demonstrators for starting a "riot" but witnesses tell the Free Press a different story. The old adage remains true - put police in riot gear, and there will be a riot.

When 20-something Samuel Richards started receiving texts Thursday night from friends saying they were being pepper sprayed and tear gassed by Columbus Police, he immediately grabbed some baking soda and water, which would alleviate agitated eyes, and raced down to Broad and High where the George Floyd protest (and for many, many others) was getting more and more dangerous by the second.

Richards arrived on the scene around 9 pm and soon found an elevated position so to get a full view, and it was a scene he had witnessed before.

The number of Columbus Police – in full riot gear, with SWAT trucks lurking nearby – was too great and too inciting, was racing through his mind.

“It was classic over-policing by the Columbus Police,” Richards told the Free Press. “It was a typical overreaction on their part.”

A source who wished to remain anonymous forwarded this statement to the Free Press, corroborating what Richards’ witnessed:

“Before the media tries to spin it as unruly rioting – this was a peaceful protest until Columbus Police decided they wanted the streets back. Then they started gassing people who were sitting. They fired rubber bullets at people. Pepper spraying people freely and with malice. The police formed blockades on all four sides to corral the crowd while still attacking the people. They declared it as an ‘emergency’ situation over their loudspeakers and threatened everyone with arrest, while still attacking. All they know how to do is escalate and attack.”

It is tricky slope questioning how the Columbus Police should handle protests in response to their own peers killing and murdering innocent African-Americans, but showing up en masse in full combat gear and acting with malice towards protesters is not the answer, but too many times it is their only answer.

At the same time it is difficult to promote those protesters who are not acting in good faith and going against what true activists stand for. Social media is circulating reports of local small businesses that were damaged Thursday night. The following quote is from a Columbus Reddit post:

“Just got done boarding up the bar I work at downtown. The bar next to us got hit as well. There’s gonna be a lot said tomorrow but please keep in mind that the idiots that did this are not the people protesting, it’s the fucking opportunists just out looking to cause trouble and get some easy loot. There are people out there who purposely see a crowd and join it as cover to get away with trouble since they can easily vanish into that crowd.”

What actually sparked the violence between protesters and police will be disputed. But Richards believes the protesters did not act out-of-bounds to the point where police had to respond with pepper spray and tear gas, and then moving in formation towards the protesters.

Water bottles were being thrown by protestors but they were missing badly and perhaps not intended to strike an officer. He did not see a police officer hit by any thrown water bottle or other debris.

“Definitely the police officers who were pepper spraying were in no threat of getting hit with a water bottle,” said Richards. “Every time a water bottle was thrown it was thrown well beyond the concentrated police area and hit down the street. Every time they were thrown it was was like 100 or 200 feet beyond police officers and then suddenly there would be a cloud of pepper and spray and people screaming.”

Soon the SWAT team was in formation and advancing with shields on the protesters.

“People began to scatter and then realign,” said Richards. “Some of the older activists started advising the protesters to leave and go home.”

Richards says this his speculation, but he wondered, were undercover officers amongst the protesters? The Free Press has proven undercover Columbus Police have gone incognito at similar local protests in the past.

“Were the people throwing water bottles undercover cops? The police were being verbally threatened but not physically threatened. The protesters were mad and loud but I don’t think anyone was being violent,” he said.

The Free Press through email sent questions to Columbus Police spokesperson Sgt. James Fuqua, but he has not responded yet.

At another peaceful protest the previous night, Wednesday, May 26, police attacked and brutalized one demonstrator, Christopher Radden. He was arrested and is now charged with a felony. Radden was openly carrying a weapon, according to witnesses. Radden was singled out by the police after an officer accidentally tripped and fell down, one witness suggested, because Radden also had on an anti-police T-shirt. He will be arraigned Saturday morning at 10am. 

Activists compare the treatment of demonstrators at these two Columbus rallies with the passive police response to many Trump supporters and right-wing militia members carrying weapons trying to break into Governor DeWine's press conference. 

Several sources we spoke with said more protests could emerge tonight, possibly at the same location as Thursday night – Livingston and Lockbourne – which sources say joined another protest before both groups moved to Broad and High.

A “demonstration to demand justice” for Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, is scheduled for tomorrow, Saturday May 30th, 10 am to 12 pm, at the Ohio Statehouse.

Organizers say to bring signs and masks. Social distancing will be enforced, said organizers, and no one will be permitted on Capital Square, so sidewalks will be the best option. They are asking to not bring guns, they respect your Second Amendment rights, but “we would prefer to not give the police any reason to make any arrests or break up our demonstration.”

“We are demonstrating to show our support for and stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. We are showing up to protest police violence. Our own CPD has its own ugly history with violence and aggression towards black people and other POC,” stated organizers.

They added:

“Also, this shouldn’t need to be said, but: WE DO NOT CONDONE VIOLENT PROTESTS. Please respect our wishes and keep this demonstration as peaceful as possible.”