Defunding the police

Protesters gathered at the Athens County Courthouse on Monday evening in a demonstration that coincided with the Oct. 5 Athens City Council meeting. Some attendees also spoke during the public participation portion of the meeting. Photo by Sydney Dawes.

A local group is requesting Athens City Council members follow through with a resolution promising action against racism in the community passed at the beginning of summer.

Athens County Copwatch consists of multiple county residents who are tasking themselves with “policing the police” through datasets collected through a slew of public records requests. Members of the group hosted a demonstration outside of the Athens County Courthouse Monday night before taking turns speaking during Athens City Council’s regular session.

The City of Athens declared racism as a public health emergency in June of this year. Councilmember Sarah Grace proposed the resolution to declare racism as a public health crisis during a committee meeting before last week’s regular meeting of Athens City Council. Grace noted during the June 22 council meeting that the proposed resolution mirrors a statewide trend, as many other cities and counties have declared racism a public health crisis.

This resolution (Resolution 10-20) called for multiple actions from the City of Athens. First, it requested that Mayor Steve Patterson create a work group to promote racial equity community engagement, as well as to build partnerships with organizations that “have a history of fighting racism,” Grace then said.

The resolution also requested that elected officials receive racial equity training. In addition, the resolution commits city officials to reviewing the Athens City Code “under a lens of racial equity.” Grace also noted at the June 22 meeting that the resolution will focus on conducting human resource actions under the same lens of racial equity, having impacts on internal policies and practices like hiring, promotion and funding.

Speakers representing Athens County Copwatch commended the resolution in theory, but voiced dismay over the apparent lack of action following its passage. Some members voiced these thoughts at a protest prior to and during the Oct. 5 council meeting. Speaking first was Damon Krane.

“Tonight we’re here to direct our demands specifically at the members of Athens City Council,” Krane said during the event in front of the county’s courthouse. “And what is it that we’re demanding? That city officials don’t just condemn racism, but they also work to end racism.”

Up first during the public participation portion of council’s Oct. 5 regular session was Genesis Vaughn, a county resident and community health worker in HIV prevention. Vaughn nodded to the upcoming November deadline for the city to renew police union contracts.

Krane also spoke during the meeting, echoing that the resolution passage is “great,” but lacking in results, again nodding to the upcoming union contract deadline, as well as the approval of the city’s budget.

“Are you seriously going to do either of those things without first investigating local policing?” he asked.

delfin bautista, of both Athens County Copwatch and the Southeastern Ohio Rainbow Alliance, asked council members how they have “lived into the resolution” they passed in June.

“Words will not dismantle systems of injustice that minoritize and marginalize individuals within the city that prides in itself on being inclusive,” they said.

Ellie Hamrick also spoke, pointing to Athens County being among the poorest in the state while also spending more than $5 million per year on policing. In addition, Bailey Plumley called upon council to fire an Athens Police Department officer, Ethan Doerr, who was linked to the 2019 incident of Black student from the University of Cincinnati being pushed to the ground and arrested by three APD officers. This incident was videoed and received widespread attention on social media.

During a press conference following the 2019 incident, Athens City Police Chief Tom Pyle stated that he believed the officers’ use of force was “justified” and “restrained,” The Athens NEWS previously reported.

In addition, Doerr was also the subject of a 2019 lawsuit filed against by a northeast Ohio man, alleging that Doerr used excessive force against him (Doerr denied those allegations), The Athens NEWS previously reported.

Speaker Brendan Moran wrapped up the public participation for the evening, calling upon the city to open the renegotiation of police union contracts and the approval of the city’s budget to public input, in addition to other action items, such as defunding and demilitarizing the APD and enacting a hiring freeze on APD, as well as decriminalizing all drug-use.

According to the Ohio Department of Health, infant and maternal mortality rates among Black women and babies is 2.5 times higher than that of white women and babies. In addition, Black Ohioans have higher rates of mortality in terms of the coronavirus (COVID-19), heart disease, cancer and more. Overall, Black Ohioans have a life expectancy that is 4 years less than that of white Ohioans, according to the Health Policy Institute of Ohio.

The American Public Health Association also has pointed to law enforcement violence as a public health issue, and an issue that disproportionately impacts marginalized groups, Grace explained during her resolution proposal during the June 22 council meeting.; @sydneydawes_95

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