Here's what Columbus locals think about police reform
Photographs by Marisa Twigg and Twinkle Panda, Photo Illustration by Jaelynn Grisso

Here's what Columbus locals think about police reform

Folks from various areas in Columbus shared their preferred reforms, ranging from general abolition to specific changes like ending qualified immunity.
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In the months following the police killings of Casey Goodson, Jr. and Andre Hill in Columbus — which itself came only months after nationwide Black Lives Matter protests — public officials, advocates and community members showed a renewed interest in reforming the police.

A little more than a year later, the creation and implementation of police reforms have had mixed success. So, we wanted to hear from community members in roles ranging from police reform advocates to nonprofit workers to hear how they feel about reforms and community interactions with police now.

Being informed about what our city officials and community members are doing helps us understand how our day-to-day life will be affected in the near future. Hear from several individuals what they believe will make the world a better place and how they are working toward just that.

Writer Zoey Miller argues that 'the entire police culture in America is rotten'

Zoey Miller leaned on the “Welcome to Olde Towne East” mural on the corner of South 18th Street and Oak Street on November 12, 2021. He is a bartender and writer who was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio and currently lives and works in the Olde Towne East neighborhood.
Zoey Miller leaned on the “Welcome to Olde Towne East” mural on the corner of South 18th Street and Oak Street on November 12, 2021. He is a bartender and writer who was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio and currently lives and works in the Olde Towne East neighborhood.Twinkle Panda

“The brazen apathy of it all shocked me. Say what you will about the importance of a dog gunned down in the middle of the street, these people clearly needed something from these civil servants that they simply and curtly refused to give.”

In Zoey Miller’s “Skinning the Dog,” he shares a true story about a bloody dog fight and the police’s insensitive response to it. Currently, Miller is a culture writer for the Pittsburgher, an online arts magazine. On August 9, 2021, they published his allegorical tale about being Black in America, police violence and racial profiling.

“I would love to not feel nervous because a person has a badge,” Miller said about how there is always an instinctive racial trauma and that he’ll always be a little mistrustful of the police. In the past, Miller had experienced racial profiling from Bexley police after attending a July 4th celebration when he was 19-years-old and has had to deal with racist landlords.

As a writer, he has covered local news and culture in Ohio for four years. From 2017 to 2019, he worked for Columbus Navigator, a local news and lifestyle website. He’s written about a wide variety of topics such as Columbus police, gentrification, police violence, opioid epidemic, politics, school to prison pipeline, food insecurity, entertainment and art.

“The quickest way to being a socialist is just growing up poor and... being smart enough to figure out why. That it’s not your fault,” Miller said.

Miller was born and raised in Columbus by his single mother and his grandparents. He said he grew up around what is now called Southern Orchards and went to school in what is now called Olde Towne East, which is where he lives and works as a bartender currently.

“Olde Towne East wasn’t even like a name either,” Miller said.“Like I think that’s like one of the first things they do is when they, like, try to like seek out and gentrify a neighborhood is like title it, give a name.” Miller added that even though he doesn’t hate it, changing the names of neighborhoods seems false. “There’s an idea of like growing up in a neighborhood, and someone moves into a neighborhood and calls it Olde Towne East and now it’s like you’re outside of that purview.”

How do you cure a culture? You know what I mean? It’s just a really hard question to answer. ‘Cause there’s so many facets of like policing that’s just wrong, especially in Columbus.
Zoey Miller, Writer

Miller wrote an opinion article for the Columbus Navigator, titled “Columbus’ recent acts of minority targeted police violence is a direct result of gentrification.” Miller said he was upset about a lot of police killings of Black men in the city at the time and wrote about the connection between where the police murders were happening and how poor neighborhoods such as Olde Towne East, Linden and Franklinton are gentrifying.

On October 12, 2021, Mayor Ginther announced funding for construction of a police substation in Hilltop and a crime center in Linden. Simultaneously, the Department of Neighborhoods is committed to support Ginther in revitalizing Hilltop and Linden with community driven plans.

Having moved to Olde Town East a few years ago from having lived in Westerville, a suburb of Columbus, Miller said he has noticed the difference in policing. He said that police are more of a helpful presence in Westerville, and they live in the area they police. He said he’d like to see more minority recruiting, more policing by people who live in that neighborhood and more civilian oversight.

“The entire police culture in America is rotten. And I think the only way to fix that is by burning it down and starting it again,” Miller said. “How do you cure a culture? You know what I mean? It’s just a really hard question to answer. ‘Cause there’s so many facets of like policing that’s just wrong, especially in Columbus.”

'What is the price of a life?': Cynthia Brown and her push to end qualified immunity

Tamie Wilson, left, and Cynthia Brown, right, stood behind the Ohio State Capitol building on November 12, 2021. Brown is the founder of Ohio Coalition to End Qualified Immunity and Wilson is it’s campaign strategist. Qualified Immunity is a legal defense that protects government officials from court trials and lawsuits that allege them of misconduct and of violating constitutional rights.
Tamie Wilson, left, and Cynthia Brown, right, stood behind the Ohio State Capitol building on November 12, 2021. Brown is the founder of Ohio Coalition to End Qualified Immunity and Wilson is it’s campaign strategist. Qualified Immunity is a legal defense that protects government officials from court trials and lawsuits that allege them of misconduct and of violating constitutional rights.Twinkle Panda

“All life is precious.” Those words serve as a guiding principle for Cynthia Brown, who believes that changing unjust policies through lawmakers can save human lives.

Brown is the founder of Ohio Coalition to End Qualified Immunity, a nonprofit organization that was formed in September 2021 to protect civil liberties for Ohioans via policy changes. Brown is the aunt of Kareem Ali Nader Jones, who was shot in the back multiple times by Columbus Police officers and died 3 days later on July 10, 2017. Despite Kareem’s case being the first body camera case in front of the Franklin County Grand Jury, the police officers, Samuel James and Marc Johnson, were not indicted.

“They can pay my sister. Let’s say they gave her a million, $5 million, but you can’t bring Kareem back. What is the price of a life? You can’t even put a dollar sign on the price of a life. You know, he had ambitions. He had dreams that he wanted to accomplish but they were cut short at the age of 30,” Brown said. “Real accountability is officers being indicted, charged, convicted.”

Because of Jones’ death, Brown founded the Heartbeat Movement, a nonprofit which seeks to address systemic racism and police brutality by campaigning to end qualified immunity, implement mandatory de-escalation training and implement mandatory mental health crisis interventions. Qualified Immunity is a legal defense that protects government officials from court trials and lawsuits that allege them of misconduct and of violating constitutional rights. Brown said that qualified immunity is systematic racism.

In May 2021, Heartbeat Movement along with other organizations had submitted a ballot initiative to the Ohio Attorney General that did not pass. Brown said that various states have passed some measures to limit or end qualified immunity but, in Ohio, police reforms are turned down.

On November 10, 2021, the Republicans in the Ohio House, passed House Bill 109 also known as the Ohio Law and Order Act, which allows police officers to have lawsuits against protestors, increases criminal penalties against protestors, and broadens the definition of what a riot is. The Fraternal Order of Police supports the bill.

Tamie Wilson, a Democrat running for US Congress in May 2022 and the campaign strategist for Ohio Coalition to End Qualified Immunity, said that the Republican party is all about the blue wall, protecting the police and not doing anything that looks like it is against the police. She said that ending qualified immunity will hold bad actors in any federal or state government position accountable by removing the protective shield that enables them and that their ultimate goal is to build trust between the community and the police department.

“We want to support the police. We want to support them in better training,” Wilson said about how in the coalition they are helping in writing the Protect and Serve Act. She said they do not want to defund the police or hate the police. They said that ending Qualified Immunity is about more than just the police.

Brown said she has a nephew who is currently a state patrol officer and about how her 6-year-old grandson wants to be in law enforcement too. She has four sons and nine grandchildren. She said that for her a safe community is where there is no fear of being harassed or dehumanized for being a Black or brown person.

When reflecting on the younger generations at the 2020 protests sparked by the death of George Floyd, Brown had three simple words. “History is changing.”

Longtime Linden resident and Linden Market manager, Isaac Báez shares mixed feelings about the police

Isaac Báez helped a customer at the Linden Fresh Market on Tuesday, November 9, 2021. The market is part of the One Linden plan and aims to provide fresh produce for residents in the area.
Isaac Báez helped a customer at the Linden Fresh Market on Tuesday, November 9, 2021. The market is part of the One Linden plan and aims to provide fresh produce for residents in the area. Twinkle Panda

Báez said that he was giving a Linden resident a tour of the market in October 2021 and that person started crying because it really hit them that this would be something that is so great for the area and their family. Having grown up in Linden, Báez has seen the struggles of the community.

“I’ve met the nice people in Linden, built relationships, built friendships,” Báez said about living in Linden in the early 2000s. “I’ve also seen the gang violence. I've seen the police brutality. I’ve seen a lot of different aspects in Linden that are both good and bad. Definitely seen the poverty.”

Though Báez was born in Columbus, his parents were from Puerto Rico and his two sisters were born outside of Ohio. He said that growing up in Linden, he had to overcome the fear of him or his family being hurt by gang violence or police brutality. As a Puerto-Rican man, he said he’s been racially profiled by the police but he’s cool with the security officer in the Linden Library and cool with the police officer who knows his name and cares about him.

“I think seeing both sides helped me understand that you know not everyone is against me. Not everyone wants to hurt me and that people do want to help,” Báez said. “I think seeing everything that you know goes on here on a daily basis really pushed me to want to help.”

Linden Fresh Market and the Community Pharmacy function as a wellness hub at 1464 Cleveland Avenue. Alongside providing free, fresh grocery items to people living at or below the 200% Federal Poverty Guidelines, the market also provides free blood pressure screenings, hosts pet foods and diaper giveaway days, and conducts free classes on staying active without a gym, on nutritional eating, and on financial literacy. Members sign up towards the left of the entrance, then walk towards the walls for freezer and refrigerator items, then head to the middle of the room for fresh produce, and then get their food bagged up at the opposite side of the room from the check in station.

“The reason we have employees, and volunteers, and myself is to help people bag up their food, and we help them take it out to their car. So I think, having people see how much we care about them and how far we’re willing to go for them, it goes a long way. You don’t really see service like that in grocery stores where you pay for the food,” Isaac Báez, Linden Market’s manager, said. He oversees employee schedules, coordinates volunteers, builds community relationships, handles food safety, inspects and distributes the produce, and keeps the market sanitary and the food clean.

Through his work experiences at the market of building relationships with the community, he said that the people the market serves are struggling with a lot of different aspects of life, such as having physical disabilities, being isolated, being single-parent households, being elderly, or being people who are unhoused.

“Ultimately, we don’t want to, you know, serve people who are in the poverty level and keep ‘em there. We want to help people get out of that and we want to help people see the other side, see that they’re actually able to better themselves.” Báez said about what he hopes that his work brings to the Linden community.

According to Matter News’ Income Segregation Map, the market is located where the income of those living in Linden falls under 25 thousand dollars a year. Báez said that the market partners with Mid-Ohio Food Collective and has an agreement they serve people in the poverty line. He said that the market is free so that people can use the money they would have spent on fresh produce elsewhere such as paying for bills, buying new clothing, on schooling, getting more education and bettering themselves in a workspace.

Community Development for All People, which is one of the six nonprofits that support the One Linden Community Plan, hired and trained Báez in April 2021. Community Development for All People has a division called Healthy Eating and Living that oversees the two free produce distributors, All People’s Fresh Market on Parsons Avenue and Linden Market. Báez said that the Linden Market serves about 100 people daily.

Báez said he is excited to grow the market and to serve more people. He hopes that alongside the partnering charitable community pharmacy adjacent to the market, they can be a health hub in Linden. The market’s hours are Monday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. and Tuesdays through Friday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“We really are trying to serve people to improve on their well-being any way we can," Báez said. "We just want to come alongside the community and build it up from within.”

Two street medics advocate for alternatives to policing

Shiny, left, and Howard, right, demonstrate the improvised uniform of street medics: warm clothes, face masks, a signifier that they’re a street medic, goggles, and backpacks filled with water, medicine, food and more to help protesters. Both Shiny and Howard are members of First Aid Central Ohio, a group of liberal and leftist volunteer street medics who provide first aid and hydration support for community events, for protestors and for unhoused people in Columbus, Ohio.
Shiny, left, and Howard, right, demonstrate the improvised uniform of street medics: warm clothes, face masks, a signifier that they’re a street medic, goggles, and backpacks filled with water, medicine, food and more to help protesters. Both Shiny and Howard are members of First Aid Central Ohio, a group of liberal and leftist volunteer street medics who provide first aid and hydration support for community events, for protestors and for unhoused people in Columbus, Ohio.Twinkle Panda

During Black Lives Matter actions in 2020, police in cities across the U.S. came up in riot gear and used gasses, flash bangs, and rubber bullets on protesters. Street medics worked to treat the resulting injuries, provide safe drinking water, support people to make informed decisions about themselves and provide preventative care like helping people adjust to the weather and help them be prepared in case of an arrest. In Columbus, Ohio, street medics from Central Ohio Street Medic Collective and independent street medics started showing up regularly to provide support, they found each other and started staying in contact with each other through encrypted group chats.

Shiny and Howard, who, for safety reasons, prefer to be referred to by their street medic names for this article, are two white women who volunteered 40 to 60 hours per week on the streets for the 2020 summer months. They both said they noticed a need for medics and kept coming out to help.

“If we can do better for Black and brown folks, it benefits everybody,” Shiny said about how while there are people of color street medics, largely street medics are white but overlap with other marginalized identities such as being queer, trans, neurodivergent, disabled, and low-income. “This is about our collective good and our collective need.”

Shiny and Howard are involved with First Aid Central Ohio, a group of liberal and leftist volunteer street medics who provide first aid and hydration support for community events, for protestors and for unhoused people in Columbus, Ohio. FACO did not officially have a name until October 2020, but many people in the group were actively volunteering as street medics during the 2020 BLM summer protests. Shiny and Howard said that COSMC and FACO are interdependent and their members overlap with each other.

Howard said that street medics experienced relationship loss and mental health struggles such as having flashbacks, nightmares, grief, panic attacks, trauma responses to uniformed police and helicopters, and an increase of a rational sense of paranoia from being assaulted and seeing law enforcement officials assault peaceful people. Howard said she had been tear-gassed by Columbus Police in January 2017 and learned about street medics from that experience. Shiny said she was arrested in June 2020 and has PTSD and physical disability from various experiences volunteering as a street medic.

Howard said that police institutions have too much power and are not held accountable. Having a social work and psychology background, Howard said that one of the first things she would like to see in central Ohio is a crisis emergency mental health response program.

On July 29, 2021, Mayor Ginther and City Council President Hardin announced the success of an “Alternative Response Pilot Program” that experiments with sending out social workers, communications dispatchers, and paramedics instead of police officers to calls involving mental health and addiction. There are plans to expand the program and keep collecting data.

Shiny said she is an abolitionist and a realist because she does not think abolition will happen in her lifetime, but she is hopeful that things will change and that we can leave it better than we found it. Shiny and Howard agree that people’s basic needs like housing and healthcare need to be met.

“I’m not going to feel defeated because people are mad that they no longer get to hold onto their privilege,” Howard said.

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