The North Side native talks gun violence and police-community relations ahead of the May 2 primary
On the afternoon of October 13, 2016, a drive-by shooting took place in front of Linden-McKinley STEM Academy as the high school students were being dismissed. The shots injured a 15-year-old and 12-year-old. Two 16-year-olds were later charged with felonious assault.
“My people are dying at high rates,” said Jasmine Ayres, one of 10 candidates running for three open City Council seats in the May 2 primary election. The 26-year-old North Side native wasn't planning to run so early in her career, but the shooting spurred her to act.
“There are very traumatic things that we're not responding to,” she said.
If elected, Ayres wants to curb violence among teens by investing more of the city's resources into proven after-school and mentorship programs. “Our [Recreation and Parks Department] programming is amazing, but there are times when they don't have the staff they want to do certain things,” she said. “If kids are coming to a place to be peaceful, there should never be an issue with that.”
Much of Ayres' campaign focuses on her passion for helping children, which was fostered by her grandmother and mother, both teachers.
“I love kids,” Ayres said. “They're brilliant and they're funny and they ask the best questions.”
For two years, Ayres has been coaching football at Northland High School, where she once played sports before graduating as valedictorian. “This was an amazing place to me, which is why I've come back,” said Ayres, who went on to earn a master's degree in public affairs from the University of Texas.
But not all of her recent experiences at Northland have been positive.
“One of the young men that I was coaching was shot and killed a year and a half ago, just walking home from a friend's house,” Ayres said. “Some of the other boys heard the shots that killed their friend, and you just can't expect them to have a normal rest of the year. … We need to make sure we have resources [to help] them.”
In addition to advocating for treatment and trauma recovery programs for students, Ayres has worked with the Juvenile Justice Coalition to incorporate restorative justice practices in schools.
“Restorative justice introduces the personal aspect of these kids' lives more into the classroom,” Ayres said. “They're dealing with a lot, and sometimes they just need to go sit in a quiet room for 15 minutes … because that might save them from going off on a teacher and getting suspended. And the goal is to keep them in school.”
Despite the frequent gun-related crimes she is seeing in the North and Northeast areas of Columbus, Ayres is calling for a stop to the city's Community Safety Initiative, which increases the number of police — including plainclothes officers — in high-crime neighborhoods during summer months. The program, recently extended year-round, has been challenged by some community members in light of the police-involved killing of Henry Green in Linden last year.
“If you've had this program for [over 10 years] and crime is still going up every summer, that tells me that your program is not effective and that maybe you should be listening to the people in your city,” said Ayres, who also wants to see stronger efforts to recruit minority police officers. “And if they want an increased police presence, I would like to see [them] on bikes or on foot. Get to know the community, walk around [and] talk to them.”
Ayres said it's important that neighborhoods of color like Linden view her as an advocate. “I think these communities have just been paid a lot of lip service,” she said. “They deserve to have all the benefits that the city has to offer.”
That includes greater access to jobs, another major part of Ayres' platform, which pushes for tax incentives for small-business owners.
Though candidates do not have to declare political affiliation for the primary election, Ayres has been endorsed by Yes We Can Columbus, a progressive Democratic organization. The Franklin County Democratic Party has already endorsed the party's incumbents.
“It has been amazing,” Ayres said of her experience running so far, and credits her friends, family and team members for their ongoing support.
“I got a chance to get some insight into [Ayres'] mindset and just her passion for helping people,” said local attorney Sean Walton, who represents Henry Green's family. He met Ayres through her service work regarding community-police relations.
“I think her educational background in public policy is a huge asset to the city, but also the fact that she's not a part of the status quo,” Walton continued. “I think the fact that she brings some unique and independent thought to the Council only moves our city forward.”
“I had really convinced myself that I didn't want to get into politics,” Ayres said. “It just seems like a critical time in history and I love this city and I feel like I'm doing it for the right reasons. I just want to save people's lives.”