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Ohio Democrats Say DeWine's Police Proposals Don't Address Racism

Ohio House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes (D-Akron)
Paul Vernon
Associated Press
Ohio House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes (D-Akron)

The leader of Ohio House Democrats has criticized a slate of proposed police reforms announced by Gov. Mike DeWine this week, saying that they don't get to the root problem of policing.

DeWine's proposals include mandatory psychological testing and a high school diploma for police recruits, more implicit bias training, independent investigations for all police shootings and in-custody deaths, and a police licensure review process.

"None of this is easy," DeWine says. "We're not saying that if we do everything right here we're not going to have a tragedy in the future. But our job is to lessen the odds of those tragedies occurring. And the steps that we're talking about today are steps that will truly make a difference."

House Minority Leader Emilia Strong Sykes (D-Akron) argues that racism must be recognized as the root problem of policing.

"These are not the recommendations of Black lawmakers, far from it," Sykes said in a statement. "What we want is to uplift the voices of Black Ohioans who we have heard from at protests, community meetings, and in everyday interactions. Statehouse Republicans, from the governor to the speaker, don’t seem interested in truly listening to Black Ohioans. They think they have the answers to hundreds of years of racism, brutality and oppression. They do not."

Sykes says the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus was not consulted on DeWine's proposals, which they heard about just hours before he announced them Wednesday.

One major sticking point for critics was DeWine's proposal for restricting police use of chokeholds, which have come under intense scrutiny following the Minneapolis Police killing of George Floyd. DeWine says chokeholds should only be used if an officer believes themselves to be in a life-threatening situation.

Sykes says the question of threat, and what constitutes "life-threatening," is an issue of racism.

"That is a subjective standard that has allowed many of these cases to go unprosecuted, or even if they are prosecuted, convictions have failed," Sykes says. "Because of that subjectivity, it's absolutely true, Black bodies are viewed as weapons."

DeWine says that's where police training and protocols come in.

"A very specific protocol. That that officer knows, and understands, and is accountable to," DeWine says. "Because when things are happening very quickly, that officer has to be able to go back to their training but also to the protocol, 'When I see this, I do this – when I see this, I don't do this.'"

The Ohio Legislative Black Caucus is pushing for the legislature to pass HCR 31, which would declare racism a public health crisis in the state. However, the House resolution has no Republican support, and has yet to have a hearing.

Only one Republican has agreed to sponsor the Ohio Senate version, which got its first hearing in the last week.

The full list of proposals from DeWine include:

  • Law enforcement oversight and accountability board
  • Independent use-of-force investigations and prosecutions
  • BCI officer-involved shooting investigative unit
  • Use-of-force transparency
  • Chokeholds
  • Body cameras
  • Advanced training
  • Basic training psychological exam
  • Ohio Office of Law Enforcement Recruitment

Many of DeWine's proposals must be taken up as legislative measures in the Ohio House and Senate. DeWine says the proposed reforms were developed with feedback from law enforcement groups.

Andy Chow is a general assignment state government reporter who focuses on environmental, energy, agriculture, and education-related issues. He started his journalism career as an associate producer with ABC 6/FOX 28 in Columbus before becoming a producer with WBNS 10TV.