David Harewood

In the summer of 2021, City Attorney Zach Klein published a column in the Dispatch touting six reform measures meant to improve Columbus policing. After reading it twice – first in disbelief that Mr. Klein would write a piece that so clearly insulted the people of Columbus’ intelligence, then in a rage realizing that at least half of the Dispatch’s readers would, in fact, take his comments at face value – I wrote a counterpoint that called out most of the reforms he mentioned as window-dressing.

Columbus’ Civilian Review Board (CRB) chairperson, Ms. Janet Jackson – a former Columbus City Attorney – took particular umbrage to the phrase “window-dressing” and wrote another column, robustly defending the new board and its role in holding the Columbus Division of Police (CPD) accountable.

She closed her column with these words: “. . . I know that the board comprises a diverse, thoughtful and passionate group of individuals who will do their level best to fulfill the vitally important charge that has been bestowed upon us. Our work is just beginning.”

On the first Saturday of this month – December 3 – a group of domestic hate-mongers and terrorists threatened an LGBTQ+ themed family event, initially promoted by a school to be held inside of a church. Those threats ultimately culminated in the event’s cancellation, the process of which has been extensively publicized and commented on, including by me in this publication. One low point in the event: a member of CPD’s “dialogue division” – one of Chief Elaine Bryant’s “reforms” in the structure of the Division – was caught on tape high-fiving one of said terrorists.

I saw that high-five in real time. What I didn’t know was that one of the members of the “diverse, thoughtful and passionate” group about which Ms. Jackson was so proud – also saw that high-five in real time. Civilian Review Board (CRB) member Mr. Gambit S. Aragon’s response was swift, righteous, and angry. He used language that any of us who watched as the police lobbed tear gas and shot wooden bullets at unarmed civilians – or at least anyone who watched those things and had any conscience and passion whatsoever – would probably use after watching those who should be “objective” getting so chummy with white nationalist terrorists, even for a moment..

On Wednesday, December 7, Mayor Ginther called for Mr. Aragon’s resignation.

This Monday, December 19, all but one of the others of that “diverse, thoughtful and passionate” group voted to expel Mr. Aragon from the Board, citing anti-police bias. 

His ouster is no more surprising than it is a clear sign of the CRB’s real purpose – which is to appear to act as an oversight against police excesses without actually doing so. If Mr. Aragon’s ouster is indicative of the real “work” intended to be done by the Board, then it’s to maintain the status quo in which City officials and the Fraternal Order of Police rush to defend not only a supposedly “objective” Community Dialogue Officer over the troubling symbolic gesture of high-fiving a Proud Boy in broad daylight, but something as criminal as an officer shooting a sleeping 20-year-old in the stomach in the middle of the night.

In this case, then, Ms. Jackson’s 2021 objection to having her board be categorized as “window dressing” was justified. It’s impossible to adequately dress a window whose glass was intentionally broken from the inside.