Chemical agents return to Downtown

It lasted less than a week.

Last Tuesday, Mayor Andrew Ginther announced that Columbus police would no longer use tear gas and pepper spray "to disperse non-agressive, non-violent crowds." "Let me be clear," the mayor tweeted. "Tear gas and pepper spray will no longer be used to break-up peaceful protests."

While some were initially encouraged by the directive, critics pointed out that police and protesters have historically been at odds over what constitutes a "peaceful" demonstration. What if protesters occupy an intersection in Downtown Columbus? Would that nonviolent stand be considered "peaceful" by police, or would police still turn to chemical agents to break up a crowd?

That question was answered Sunday afternoon, when police in riot gear used chemical agents to clear protesters from the intersection of Broad and High streets Downtown. Two people were arrested.

According to the Dispatch, Columbus police Commander Smith Weir said one protester was arrested after the person threw a motorized scooter at an officer. Weir also told the Dispatch that mace was used during a skirmish on South High Street and another time when he said officers were surrounded by protesters.

Ginther tweeted his support of the police action on Sunday night, referring to "lawlessness including the drag racing, fires and injuries in recent nights. ... As police tried to clear streets, they were met with violence from some and took action, including using mace and pepper spray as appropriate to keep crowds in sidewalks. ... I will reiterate again that we respect and encourage peaceful protest, but aggressive acts that put police and protesters in danger cannot be tolerated."

As is often the case, protesters on the ground told a different story regarding the police use of force. "What I saw today: Police ramming bikes into nonviolent protesters. Police tear gas nonviolent protesters. Police announce that they were going to tear gas people, these people were nonviolent. State troopers & police in full riot gear to block off intersections downtown," tweeted Millie Vaughan, executive director of the Ohio Senate Democrats.

"I watched a Black man who is a double amputee fall out of his wheelchair and crawl for yards down High Street after being maced. It was one of the most awful things I have ever seen. He was terrified," tweeted attorney Stacey Hauff.

In recent days, the FOP has expressed frustration with Ginther and his directives regarding tear gas and pepper spray.

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The Columbus Museum of Art will reopen to visitors on Tuesday, June 30. Revisit our recent chat with CMA director Nannette Maciejunes about all of the museum's challenges during the COVID crisis, and read CMA's reopening guidelines here.

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The Dispatch interviewed Gov. Mike DeWine at his farm in Cedarville. In the hour-long interview, DeWine answered questions about the pandemic and the recent spate of protests.