After Peaceful Protests, Warren Mayor Says Hard Conversations Need to Start

WARREN, Ohio – As fear of violence from outside entities at a planned protest grew Monday in the Warren area, causing businesses and county office to closed early, it also caused a community to unite.

One by one, black, white, Latinos filed into Warren’s Ampitheatre. Slowly, speckles of young, old, middle aged and people who are disabled filled in the lawn at the Mahoning Rivers edge. Loudly and peacefully at least 1,000 citizens, lawmakers, leaders and police officers walked through Perkins Park and the city’s iconic Downtown Square with a unified message that injustice and brutality to African Americans must end.

For Ty’onna Powell, the 20-year-old event organizer, her vision of a community coming together peacefully to protest the death of yet another African American man who died at the hands of police was beyond her expectations.

For Vincent Peterson, veteran police officer, pastor and community leader, the protest was unprecedented. And the week of nonstop national protests, riots, violence and societal disruption that ensued since Derek Chauvin’s knee choked the life out of a handcuffed George Floyd in Minneapolis is a pivotal moment in history.

“My son said I were talking and he said, ‘I believe this is our Selma,’ “ said Peterson, who asked his son to explain.

His point is that white America had not seen what black America had suffered until they saw the egregious behavior in Selma, Ala. at the height of the Civil Rights Movement.

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“I believe what has happened is going to have lifelong effects. I told some young people today, ‘You are a part of a new chapter that’s being written in the city of Warren. You are the catalyst for this next conversation that is going to happen,’ ” Peterson said.

Mayor Doug Franklin cited the series of killings of unarmed black men and women, and said Floyd’s death is the match that lit the powder keg.

“Today is one thing, but we have to continue a dialogue of real change to make sure that everybody who is participating today, and those who aren’t, can be part of that conversation one way or another,” Franklin said. “Tomorrow I don’t want to be talking about how many buildings were burned down or what was looted. I want to be talking about what are the next steps to positive change.”

Powell said the turnout was beyond her expectation and more than fulfilled her vision to unite to fight injustice in a peaceful manner.

Ty’onna Powell – organizer of Warren protest

“My city did it and your city can do it too,” Powell said of the peaceful protest. “What you do is so impactful that you have to be careful with how you use it. That’s why I’m glad everyone came here with good energy and we closed with a prayer so everyone can leave here with good energy,” she said.

Harnessing that energy to work for change is what Franklin said needs to happen now.

“Through my experience, that dialogue hasn’t taken place over the years and we keep seeing this broken record of these senseless killings time after time after time,” the mayor said. “This is a turning point. If you look at the diversity of this crowd and you look at police officers who are going to walk with us, lock step with the same spirit. They don’t agree with this type of police work. They didn’t want to be seen as the enemy.”

At least a dozen police officers could be seen intertwined with the crowd, including Warren police and Trumbull County Sheriff deputies.

Powell started organizing the protest like many young people her age do, online. As word traveled, so too, did rumors and online chatter that people from outside of Warren would be bussed in to incite violence that has unfolded throughout the country, including Cleveland, just an hour’s drive.

Businesses in an Elm Road shopping plaza, including Tractor Supply Co. and Global Fitness, as well as those in the surrounding vicinity, including Advance Auto Parts and Walmart closed ahead of time. Walmart was closed by 2:30 p.m.

Police had heard the same rumors about buses coming in. If the buses did come, police wouldn’t stop them because people have the right to assemble and protest, said Howland Police Sgt. Jeff Sescourka. However, they blocked off the entrances to the plaza to keep things “calm and peaceful,” he said.

Several departments in the area dispatched additional patrols, including Howland and Bazetta, Sescourka noted. No busses arrived.

Those rumors brought Skylar Steward, Mark Williams and Patrick Baker from the Ohio Patriotz to stand by Warren’s Veteran’s memorial, prepared to protect it and the city and property from anyone intent on causing harm to the memorial or violence and destruction to the city.

Steward is a member of Ohio Patriotz. The men donned military equipment, flak jackets, fully loaded gun clips, and were strapped with long-gun rifles and/ AR-15 assault weapons.

“We’re a group of God-loving, American-loving, constitutionalists. We stand for constitution. Size, shape, color sexual orientation, none of that should me anything. We’re all Americans,” Steward said.

After hearing “scuttlebutt” that people were coming to Warren to cause violence, the men wanted to be on hand to protect the WWII Memorial. They are traveling around to different spots since the riots broke out at protests.

Ohio Patriotz members Patrick Baker, Skyler Steward and Mark Williams.

“I think Warren made the right precautions to protect their town, one by closing down businesses and boarding windows up, and two, by Warren law enforcement coming out and embracing these protesters, walking with these protesters,” said Steward, who is from Marietta, but spends time in Warren, and has attended many concerts at the Warren Ampitheatre. Baker is from Warren and Williams is staying in Marietta, but is a self-described gypsy.

“We train regularly for whatever may be thrown at us,” Steward said. “Some people may call us conspiracy theorists or tin-foil hat wearing Americans, but I like to think we’re realists. Look at our country now, it’s burning to the ground. How many cities do we have on fire with riots and everything else? You just don’t know what’s going to happen. We try to be prepared.”

Several members of Ohio Patriotz are Veterans, but Steward said members don’t have to be. He said the group runs full background checks on potentials members to make sure they can legally own a firearm. “We don’t want any riffraff in our organization,” he said.

“The protest today was outstanding. To see all walks of life come through here and do it peacefully,” he continued. “They demonstrated and you could hear the pain that everybody across the nation as experienced with George Floyd’s murder. Yes, I said murder. He was murdered. Arrest all four cops, put them in jail and let’s get done with this. Let’s move on and correct the wrongs that were done and correct society as a whole.”

As the Ohio Patriotz carried assault weapons, protesters carried signs with the names of men and women who have died, including Mathew Burroughs, who was shot and killed by Niles Police Jan. 2, 2019, near his Royal Mall apartment after a pursuit. Once police had Burroughs’ car pinned in, officers say they believed Burroughs was going to use his car to hit them and fired upon him. No charges were filed after Trumbull County prosecutors said the case was presented to a grand jury. A federal lawsuit is pending.

Samantha Miller, Vienna, said she was downtown to protest but also “keep the peace” along with others. Miller says she lived in Florida at the time of the killing of Trayvon Martin. Just a few hours from her home there, the 17-year-old black teenager from Miami Gardens was fatally shot by George Zimmerman in a gated community in Sanford, Fla. where Martin was visiting relatives. Zimmerman was charged with murder, but acquitted at trial after claiming self-defense.

“I saw the effects of what went on and that kind of opened up my eyes to see that there are still different things that need to be changed,” Miller says. 

As she stood with friends in Florida during that event, Miller wanted to stand in solidarity with friends in Warren, she said.

While she’s not witnessed any acts of racism from Warren or Vienna police, she has witnessed such acts from residents. As the protesters gathered for the Warren demonstration, some passers-by would make comments or make “the hand motion of a gun,” toward the protesters, she says.

“I just waved at them because I know they don’t like it, so they’re going to try to scare me away. But it ain’t going to work,” she said.

Once the protest was under way, sign-carrying protesters were greeted by horns sounded from passersby.

Many white protesters carried signs that simply said, Enough! One sign read, “I am white, yet I see color. I know my privilege. I fight for justice for all. Black lives matter!”

Peterson, officer in charge of Trumbull County Adult Probation, said a range of emotions overcame him when he saw the Floyd video.

“I was embarrassed as a law enforcement officer that this gentleman represented us. As an African American male, I was angered to see what he [Chauvin] did. And as a community person I was totally disturbed. My heart hurt because I know as a law enforcement officer, he doesn’t represent all of us.”

On Monday, the former Youngstown State University football standout and pastor, said the crowd and unity brought him to tears.

“I saw a large contingent of black, white, old, young people come together in the city of Warren for one common purpose,” he said. “This is not about black or white, it’s about what’s right. I saw racism put on trial here today, and it has to be. It has to be exposed. And I saw the city of Warren stand up like no other.”

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.