DeWine Says Columbus Protests ‘Appropriate’ but Urges Nonviolence

COLUMBUS, Ohio – After a night of violent protests that caused damage to the Ohio statehouse and several businesses in downtown Columbus, Gov. Mike DeWine said what is transpiring in cities around the country is the pain, anger and fear many black Americans are feeling after watching the horrific death of George Floyd while he was in police custody.

The former attorney general and prosecutor said people have every right to protest – it should be considered a civic duty, he said – but not to let violence overshadow the message. 

“As you gather to protest, regardless of the issue, please do so peacefully. We must not fight violence with more violence,” DeWine said at a news conference Friday. “These protests taking place are expressing outrage, and it’s not only understandable, but appropriate.”

Nationwide, protests have taken place for three nights decrying the death of Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died in Minneapolis police custody Monday. A video of the arrest shows former police officer Derek Chauvin’s knee pressing on the back Floyd’s neck as he was face down and handcuffed. In the video, Floyd can be heard saying he couldn’t breathe. 

Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for approximately five minutes until medical crews arrived and Floyd’s limp body was placed on a stretcher. He was pronounced dead at the hospital. Chauvin and three other officers who stood by at the scene were fired. Shortly before DeWine’s press conference, Chauvin was arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. Minneapolis officials said an investigation into the other fired officers is ongoing.

“To watch the video of [Floyd’s] life being taken away second by second is horrific and will be seared on every American’s mind til the day they die,” DeWine said. 

According to numerous media accounts, protests in Columbus began peacefully but turned ugly when protesters hurled objects at police officers. Crowds were driven back with tear gas, but later demonstrators smashed windows at the Ohio statehouse while some went inside the building. 

SWAT teams were called to the break-in at the statehouse and ordered protesters to leave or face arrest. 

According to a release, 28 statehouse window panes were shattered and damage was done to the wood frames. Damage also was done to the State Street and West Rotunda doors. Fire damaged flags and flower beds. Five lamp poles and a granite bench also were vandalized. 

The Ohio Theatre suffered multiple broken windows and doors, smashed video screens and minor fire damage to the ticket kiosk. 

“There are 35,000 police officers in Ohio who risk their lives every single day. They protect our communities. The officers who responded yesterday put their own lives at risk and did an excellent job, and the vast majority do a good job,” DeWine said. “[Chauvin’s] conduct violated every principle of human decency, but it also violated any kind of basic police training.”

The restraint used by Chauvin has been banned by several police departments nationwide.

DeWine immediately followed by saying training for police is the solution to avoiding such situations in the future, but said it was a top priority when he was attorney general to ensure police were trained in de-escalation skills and to “understand their own implicit bias and to realize that we all have some bias. But the emphasis was on how to deal with those biases. We’ve done a lot in Ohio, but we need to do more,” DeWine said.

With his wife, Fran, beside him, he explained the disgust they felt when watching the video, and realizing they can’t comprehend or imagine what an African American family must feel.

“I want to make sure as governor of this state that I say to every African American male, women, children that you’re valued, you’re an essential part of this community and no one will forget that. Your pain, your anger, your grief is valued,” he said. “I stand here to tell you I hear the voices of frustration. I hear it. I receive those words and emotions with empathy and a commitment to seek solutions and justice.”

Pictured: Protesters stand in downtown Columbus on May 28, 2020, during a demonstration over the death of George Floyd in police custody Monday in Minneapolis. (Barbara J. Perenic/The Columbus Dispatch via AP)

Copyright 2023 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.