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Columbus Police Deploy Tear Gas On Protesters Downtown Before Second Night Of Curfew

Columbus Police used tear gas to disperse protesters on May 31, soon after arriving downtown.
Paige Pfleger
Columbus Police fired tear gas and wooden bullets into crowds soon after arriving downtown on Sunday evening, May 31, 2020.

Hours ahead of the city's second night of curfew, Columbus Police deployed tear gas on protesters and blocked off streets downtown.

The city of Columbus announced Sunday afternoon that the 10 p.m. curfew would remain in place until 6 a.m. Monday.

After a day of nonviolent protests over the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police, Columbus demonstrators converged near Broad and High Streets for the fourth night in a row.

Law enforcement were mostly absent from the early protests, which remained relatively peaceful even as hundreds of people—wearing makeshift masks and carrying signs—crowded in the streets.

Credit Paige Pfleger / WOSU
Protesters march down Broad Street during the fourth day of protests for George Floyd.

“I came out here today to protest the deaths of George Floyd and other black men across America," said protester Kierstin Ivory. "I seen the video and I just couldn’t sleep at night. It made me feel very uncomfortable, and I felt like I needed to go out and do my part and protest peacefully.”

Ivory said it was her first day out protesting, and she planned to return every day there is a protest going on.

“We don’t need police officers shooting pepper spray at us and coming at us with violence if all we’re doing is promoting justice," Ivory said.

Another protester, Carlton Moris, said he was inspired to come out after seeing videos of Columbus Police clashing with protestors.

"Well, I’d been weighing it the last couple of days," he said. "But then obviously seeing the videos of the Columbus Police in riot gear and the way they were pushing back on protesters and demonizing protesters who were trying to perform peaceful protest - I got scared, I will admit that - but today I was sick of it. I was like, ‘Today, I’m going.’"

Crowds protesting the killing of George Floyd in downtown Columbus on Saturday, May 30, 2020.
Credit Paige Pfleger / WOSU
A protester leads others in chants for George Floyd in downtown Columbus.

Many in the crowd were intent on keeping the environment calm, although some demonstrators clashed with drivers in cars, including one who appeared to try and drive into a group of people.

Just before 8 p.m., hours before the curfew was set to begin, Columbus Police arrived and warned crowds to disperse immediately. The crowd raised their arms and chanted, "hands up, don't shoot."

Some protesters threw water bottles at the officers, who fired wooden projectiles back into the crowds. Authorities then deployed tear gas at the intersection, causing protesters to scatter for cover. 

Dispersed protesters sat on benches at the Ohio Statehouse. People walked around offering milk or water. Protester Aaron Besco's eyes were red from the gas and from crying. 

"Some dude got shot by a rubber bullet, so I had some gauze and was trying to help him. Then I got teargassed in my face," he said, crying. "Why would they do that?"

Credit Paige Pfleger / WOSU
A protester with milk on her face sits on a bench at the Ohio Statehouse after being tear gassed by Columbus Police.

While continuing to release tear gas, police with bicycles and gas masks blocked sidewalks along High Street, pushing people south. Officers from the Franklin County Sheriff's Office have barricaded several streets.

In front of the Statehouse, a few Ohio State Highway Patrol troopers, who were mobilized Saturday by Gov. Mike DeWine to help with law enforcement in Franklin County, donned gas masks. 

Curfews have also been set in Cincinnati, Dayton, Cleveland and other cities.

Columbus Police have come under heavy criticism for their actions during recent demonstrations. On Saturday afternoon, officers at the Statehouse used tear gas and pepper spray on crowds that included U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) and Columbus City Council Shannon Hardin, both of whom are African American.

"Some of what we saw yesterday from Columbus Police was aggressive," Mayor Andrew Ginther said in a tweet that has since been deleted. "We are proactively addressing these incidents. The goal is to find a better balance between public safety and peaceful protest. We will also work more swiftly to bring about change and reform."

Ohio State Highway Patrol troopers with gas masks guard the front of the Ohio Statehouse on May 31, 2020.
Credit Paige Pfleger / WOSU
Officers in gas masks stand on the steps of the Ohio Statehouse.

When questioned about his comment, Ginther added, "proactive as in no one needs to file a complaint with Internal Affairs. We are investigating."

In a statement Saturday, Fraternal Order of Police president Keith Farrell criticized what he called the "negative characterization" of Columbus Police by Ginther.

"Officers feel as if their hands are being tied by the Mayor and his administration," Farrell wrote. "There is no reason rioters should be permitted to destroy and loot business."

Over the weekend, Hardin and several other City Council members also indicated their support for police reforms. In a statement Sunday, Council president pro tem Elizabeth Brown criticized "heavy-handed aggression by police" against demonstrators.

"With urgency we must form a Civilian Review Commission, greatly expand deescalation training including use of non-aggressive tactics during nonviolent protest, adopt tighter restrictions on officer use of force, and implement the recommendations of the Safety Advisory Commission," Brown wrote.

Hardin called for similar changes, including independent investigations into police use of force, which community activists have demanded for years. He also urged the implementation of recommendations from a2019 report on racial disparities in Columbus Police procedures.

This article will be updated with more information as the story develops.

Gabe Rosenberg joined WOSU in October 2016. As digital news editor, Gabe reports breaking news and edits all content for the WOSU website, as well as manages the station's social media accounts.
Adora Namigadde was a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU News in February 2017. A Michigan native, she graduated from Wayne State University with a B.A. in Broadcast Journalism and a minor in French.