I'm tired of the murals, yo
What happened in Columbus was not OK.
Three weeks ago, we all watched in horror as protesters were beaten, shot at with rubber and wooden projectiles, tear gassed and Maced by police here and all across the nation. We haven’t gotten justice for it, either.
On the last weekend in May, many watched or participated in protests that turned violent at the hands of the Columbus Division of Police. We tuned into livestreams and wondered if someone was going to be killed. Those marching saw firsthand how the police had been emboldened to hurt people with no accountability.
People are still protesting across the country. And, despite the calls for defunding, disbanding or other radical reforms, police are still killing people.
Black people have watched mainstream media reluctantly cover the brutalization at the hands of police. We all saw the shift to concern over looting and rioting. We saw newscasters, journalists and Twitter blue checks fall over themselves to brand the protesters as peaceful, dulling a fit of rightful anger with respectability politics so the nebulous “they” would take us seriously. We saw politicians, mayors and even some so-called activist groups preach about both sides, chastising angry people rather than addressing why they are angry in the first place.
And then, a few days later, we all watched again as the coverage of the protests started to shift toward Black people line dancing and swag surfin’ in the street. Messages of “unity” and “togetherness” and being “seen” or “heard” have become the dominant narrative. Murals — sometimes painted by Black artists, sometimes not — are what we see on the internet now.
Everyone gave up on getting justice. Everyone stopped caring about accountability.
Only three weeks ago, Gov. Mike DeWine mobilized the Ohio National Guard, with the president’s tacit approval, to help quell the protests. I will never forget the sight of Humvees all throughout Downtown.
Dozens, if not hundreds, of people in Columbus have been Maced and manhandled by CPD officers. There are plenty of videos online that attest to this.
Mayor Andrew Ginther created a community review board that won’t be up and running for weeks. Even then, it will be incomplete. How does one get justice when CPD Chief Thomas Quinlan allowed officers not to wear identification during these brutal protests? How does one report wrongdoing when they’re running scared from projectiles or tear gas? How does anyone report cops when multiple Black people have been found hanging in trees in recent weeks?
Where is the accountability? Where is the justice?
So far, change has been piecemeal. A few positive incremental changes aren’t enough when we need a ground-up redesign. Now Columbus police are supposedly not allowed to use tear gas on “peaceful” protesters (although police again deployed chemical agents at a Downtown protest on Sunday afternoon), but there’s no other real talk about radical, structural changes in policing. There’s no serious talk about the demilitarization of CPD. And those groups that are talking about it can’t seem to get a seat at the table.
It seems like people are keen to move on from all of this.
A lot of powerful people and organizations are saying they hear us and they see us, but they’re also showing us all in a very genteel way that they aren’t going to do anything about what happened. They act as if they don’t make the rules and are completely powerless to fix the situation.
It reminds me of when I was disowned by my parents for being gay. My parents told me that I would always be welcome in their house. Then they changed the locks. Words don’t mean anything.
What does “hearing us” and “seeing us” mean? For many, it’s the simple acknowledgment of a problem. But that isn’t enough. Black people can’t do anything with an admission that those in power recognize a problem. Acknowledgment means little if it is not followed with tangible action.
Unfortunately, acknowledgment in Columbus can also come with its own baggage. It’s only been four weeks, but the murals painted by Black artists and celebrating the reality that Black Lives Matter have already been appropriated by Experience Columbus to market the city.
Four weeks later and Stonewall Columbus has put on a company-sponsored march Downtown, complete with a pop-up market and networking events. Selling T-shirts and business networking is the path to structural change in Columbus, I guess.
Columbus citizens can’t even get a solid statement from Stonewall promising to abolish the police presence at Pride. Los Angeles vowed to remove police from its Pride celebrations. So did Indianapolis.
Pride is an apt comparison, isn’t it? The commercialization of Pride has been the subject of controversy in the LGBTQ community for years. Now, Pride parades are full of large corporations and groups with big money — groups whose interests seemingly come first. What started as a riot and still exists as a decades-long struggle for rights has been whitewashed over the past 50 years, becoming a blur of rainbow flag merchandise and conventionally attractive, smiling gay couples. Never mind the fact that two Black trans people have been murdered in the past two weeks, one of them in Ohio. Never mind the fact that a lot of homeless teens are LGBTQ.
After only a month, it seems like people want to reduce these protests to that same level of benign activism. I can feel Black Lives Matter being contorted into a trending hashtag. In a matter of weeks, we have gone from protesters spraying anti-cop graffiti and getting brutalized in the streets to selling knick-knacks in the middle of the street while passersby take Instagram photos in front of Black murals painted on boarded-up Short North shops.
Black people didn’t ask for any murals. We’re tired of those murals, yo.
We want real change.