by J.D. Davidson
Nearly two years after protests filled the streets of downtown Columbus, the state’s largest city took steps to demilitarize its police force Monday by limiting certain weapons and equipment that can be used during peaceful protests.
The Columbus City Council unanimously approved a new ordinance that limits police from using tear gas, wooden or rubber bullets, batons, flash-bang grenades and other items on nonviolent protesters on streets and sidewalks.
Also, police also must curtail the use of force on nonviolent protesters on private property or government buildings. A second ordinance passed Monday that also requires police to have badge numbers and identifying information visible on alternative uniforms. The council approved $150,000 to make those changes.
The use of force ordinance is similar to one tabled in September 2020, four months after George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis and protests mostly around Capitol Square in Columbus.
More than 100 businesses were vandalized, along with numerous government buildings. The city enacted a curfew, and Gov. Mike DeWine called in the Ohio National Guard to maintain order.
Columbus settled a federal lawsuit with more than 30 protesters in December for nearly $6 million. The suit claimed at least three of the plaintiffs alleged they suffered broken bones. Following a hearing, U.S. District Judge Algenon Marbley issued a preliminary injunction against the city that barred officers from using non-lethal force including tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, wooden pellets and other items on nonviolent protestors.
“During the protests in Columbus, some plaintiffs were significantly injured. Therefore, it’s incumbent upon the city to accept responsibility and pay restitution. Many Columbus Division of Police officers did perform their jobs professionally during that time, but this litigation highlighted serious issues that must be addressed,” Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein said when he announced the settlement. “While this has certainly been a difficult and painful moment for our community, it has yielded important, and in some instances long overdue, reforms to policing practices, policies, and oversight.”
The protests also led to proposed legislation in the General Assembly that would allow law enforcement officers to sue for injuries or false claims suffered during riots.
House Bill 109, which passed in February and remains in a Senate committee, also would increase penalties for rioting and create new laws for riot assault and riot vandalism. It also would punish those who provide help to those who carry out a riot.
The bill was originally introduced in November 2020. At the time, Rep. Cindy Abrams, R-Harrison, called the disrespect of law enforcement a substantial issue across the state.
“The disrespect right now, it is devastating to the uniformed police officers,” Abrams said in 2020. “I’m not saying there aren’t a few bad apples across the nation, but there are bad apples in anything you do.”
Rep. David Leland, D-Columbus, said the bill would discourage people from becoming involved with lawful protests and civil demonstrations. He called the bill’s language vague and said it would put charity groups at risk for prosecution.
“At its core, HB109 is un-American because it upsets the fragile balance between law and order and liberty and justice, and by doing so, it puts at risk a basic fundamental freedom: the freedom of speech. A freedom that defines America,” Leland said.
– – –
An Ohio native, J.D. Davidson is a veteran journalist with more than 30 years of experience in newspapers in Ohio, Georgia, Alabama and Texas. He has served as a reporter, editor, managing editor and publisher. Davidson is a regional editor for The Center Square.
Photo “Police-Protester Interaction” by Becker1999. CC BY 2.0.