The foursome is expected to stand trial in February
From the Women's March in January to the tax reform bill demonstrations in November, 2017 was packed with protests. And while many of them received media attention — during the action or directly following — the long-lasting effects on the participants weren't often recognized.
How are the travel ban protesters feeling now that a revised version has gone into effect? What is life like for the last group of Standing Rock protesters who were evicted in February? What is the fate of those arrested at the Pride parade demonstrations throughout the nation last summer?
In Columbus, specifically, the #BlackPride4 protesters — Wriply Bennet, Kendall Denton, Ashley Braxton and Deandre Miles-Hercules — are expecting to stand trial in February for charges ranging from resisting arrest to felony aggravated robbery. The foursome was part of a larger group that blocked the Stonewall Pride Parade on June 17 to protest, in part, the erasure of black and brown queer and trans people.
“[I'm] tired, really worn out and somewhat fearful, but trying my best to keep the faith,” said Bennet, who joined Denton for an early-December phone interview.
“Clearly the courts have been dragging this out,” Denton said. “We and the community plan on really fighting this, so I think we're going to have a favorable outcome.”
Braxton, who spoke with Alive in a separate call, expressed more doubt. “I don't have a lot of faith in Columbus to do the right thing, but I figure I'll deal with whatever happens the best way I can,” she said.
If found guilty, the protesters could face jail time and be responsible for thousands of dollars in legal fees. Fortunately, the group has received nearly $30,000 in donations to its legal fund via an online platform.
“Once we got lawyers involved … I started to get concerned because there's no way that I could pay the price tag,” Denton said. “So when the fund started getting more and more traffic, it set my mind at ease.”
The local community has further rallied around the #BlackPride4 by participating in a selfie campaign, attending social events and putting pressure on prosecutors through a calling campaign and petition drop.
“I think the charges should be dropped,” Braxton said. “I think Stonewall [Columbus] should have their funding removed until they can actually meet the needs of the community that they claim to serve. … [And] I think that the Columbus Division of Police needs to take a serious look at how they respond to people exercising their constitutional right.”
Following the protest, Stonewall, which saw the resignation of Pride and program coordinator Lori Gum and a group of Pride planning committee members, hosted a community conversation on racism, transphobia and homophobia. Stonewall members also attended a #BlackPride4 community conversation.
Bennet said the discussions were not productive, and called for a replacement of Stonewall's board of directors.
“They continue to do these Pride parades that aren't safe for us [and] that have police everywhere,” she said. “They don't protect us [and] they don't stand up for anything other than a big party each year.
“The community needs to be hosting their own Pride parade.”
One positive outcome of the Pride protest is that it has connected community members who are passionate about the same issues, said Braxton, who encouraged people to start their own organizations.
“Basically, just do whatever you can to uplift people in your community who have needs that aren't being met,” she said.
The story behind the photo
The powerful image of the #BlackPride4 — taken by Rob Hardin — was achieved through a group effort, including input from additional organizers who attended the photo shoot at the Alive offices. The original idea was for the group members to wear black tape over their mouths, as they had during the Pride protest to signify “being forcibly silenced,” Denton said. After some frantic rummaging through drawers, we discovered we only had white tape. The protesters then decided to write the names of Police Chief Kim Jacobs and Stonewall Executive Director Karla Rothan on the tape.
“It sent a message, basically, that the people whose names were on the tape are the people who are actively marginalizing those of us who were arrested and mistreated [and] abused at the Pride parade,” Braxton said. “So it was just another visual representation of what happened besides all of the videos that were taken [at the protest].”