Hear from the sole activist appointed to Mayor Ginther's safety commission
From the Boston Tea Party of 1773 to the March on Washington in 1963, American social and political protests have defined the nation time and time again. In recent years, there has been an uptick in protest movements, beginning with Occupy Wall Street in 2011. When Columbus residents gathered at the Statehouse to show solidarity with the New York protesters, something shifted in the city.
“When that [movement] fell off, many of those young people that had gotten a taste of ordinary people coming together to address an issue [wondered], ‘What do you do with that energy? Where does it go?'” said local activist Tammy Fournier Alsaada. “And then Trayvon Martin happened.”
In 2013, when George Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges after fatally shooting African-American teenager Trayvon Martin, Fournier found herself at the Statehouse with the young organizers she had come to know. “I was so angry,” Fournier Alsaada recalled. “We showed up Downtown and cried together and made some signs. … And that day folks just said, ‘Let's keep meeting.'”
Those meetings spawned the Ohio Student Association, which recruited Fournier Alsaada to work on voter registration efforts alongside the late beloved activist MarShawn McCarrel. From there, Fournier Alsaada helped form criminal justice reform group People's Justice Project (PJP).
Fournier Alsaada, 56, was no stranger to community organizing. In the past, she worked on President Obama's campaigns, and for an OSU initiative to address gun violence in the city. Prior to that, the Linden native led an eventful life that could fill two books, literally; she wrote two novels inspired by her experiences.
With PJP, she has been on the front lines of the community response to the high-profile Columbus police killings of African-American males, including 23-year-old Henry Green and 13-year-old Ty're King. After activists' repeated meetings with local government officials, Mayor Andrew Ginther announced an end to the Summer Safety Initiative, enacted to reduce crime in targeted areas with plainclothes officers and increased patrols. Some said the initiative made community-police relations worse.
“It was a win because for much of my life in this city, people have been harassed, aggressively policed [and] targeted,” Fournier Alsaada said.
She was also encouraged by Ginther's Comprehensive Neighborhood Safety Strategy, which proposed additional funding for Columbus Public Health staff to address violent crime-related trauma.
“One of our demands was that the city begin to look at violence as a public health issue,” Fournier Alsaada said.
She was also appointed to the mayor's new Columbus Community Safety Advisory Commission to “review Columbus Division of Police policies, training and procedures.”
Perhaps ill-timed, the announcement of the commission members followed the reinstatement of Officer Zachary Rosen, who killed Green and was fired for stomping a handcuffed suspect. And some community members have questioned the mayor's appointments.
“Everybody that comes to any table comes with their own self-interest, but we hope that they're also coming for the collective good,” said Fournier Alsaada. “And so I will sit on that commission for the collective good.”