The Other Columbus: This isn't a city. It's a business.

Scott Woods
Workers install a new window in Melt Bar & Grilled in the Short North on June 5. The windows were damaged during recent protests in Columbus.

Columbus isn’t a city. It’s a business. And before anybody comments that all cities are businesses, let me state that Columbus is a commercial enterprise in a way that makes it exceptional. 

Lacking an organic identity, any genuine interest in historical preservation and having no distinguishable culture, Columbus has a lot of energy to burn on business interests. What the city lacks in cultural variety it makes up for in gross consumerism and rampant development, unshackled as it is by things like homegrown traditions or tourism-worthy communities. It doesn’t have a Harlem or a Treme or a Mission District. Ain’t nobody set-claiming Italian Village. Square cut pizza isn’t a cuisine. 

Columbus is a business in every sense of the word. It doesn’t have an identity; it has a brand. It doesn’t have a culture; it has a marketing department. It doesn’t have a respect for history; it has façade. And 900,000 residents is a lot of taxable consumers.

Which is part of the reason why policing in Columbus is so hard to change: Policing is good for business.

Get The Other Columbus delivered to your inbox every week: Sign up for our daily newsletter

Changing policing is hard is because of its function in society. The job of police is to protect and serve the business interests of the communities in which they exist. While they do other things, this is at the core of their mission — their creation, in fact. Maintaining the status quo is good business, and cops are in the anti-disruption game. It is why policing is the largest section of the city’s budget by hundreds of millions of dollars.

It’s not a coincidence that when flagship business centers of the city came under direct targeting by rioters, things started to move: Politicians started showing up at rallies, businesses started launching anti-racism initiatives, the mayor started writing things on paper as if he would honor them. You know, action items (if not actual change). When the threat of property damage seemed over after a couple of days, the status quo creeped back onto the table as the preferred menu from which resolutions could be chosen.

The protests remind me of a visit I made to the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed, and seeing Jacqueline Smith’s protest tent across the street. Smith has been protesting what became the National Civil Rights Museum for over 32 years, ever since they evicted her and others from the hotel. She has vowed to stay on that corner until the motel, now the National Civil Rights Museum, becomes a working resource for the community it has displaced and is gentrifying away. Imagine protesting a civil rights museum to make it accountable to the neighborhood in which it sits and the values it has emblazoned on its walls. Then consider how much is too much to expect from a city that treats its citizens like cogs in a machine, how asking the question, “What would it take to end the protests?” with so little on the table to consider is offensive.

I hope the protests continue until there is concrete change in this city, and not just in the police department. As long as there are protests, the city is being made aware of its broken covenants. Protests and the social media attached to them are great avenues to spread information about who is doing what at City Hall and the Statehouse and the business sector. As long as there is a protest, there is an eye on process, a rough gauge for progress, and a voice that speaks for residents without requiring an appointment.