All Christopher Radden wanted was to be heard
On May 25, Christopher Radden was playing NBA2K in his East Side home and “not really caring about much,” as he put it, when news about George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police started to creep across his social media timeline, including video footage of officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.
“I was watching, and it was like, ‘Damn, he’s choking him. Oh,hell no!'” Radden said by phone in early June. “As I watched him die, I was like, ‘What the fuck was that?’ So I called my brothers, talked to them, and then went to a couple other friends. We were all pissed, but it was like, ‘What can we do? Really, what can we do about that?’ And we couldn’t come up with anything. And that was blowing my mind. I’m having all of these conversations with friends after having seen something so blatant as the Minneapolis police murdering George Floyd right in front of us, and we really couldn’t understand what we could do to help.”
The next day, Radden, motivated to do something to make his voice heard, posted a call to Facebook. “And I said, listen, tomorrow at 5 o’clock, I’m going to go down to Lockbourne [Road] and Livingston [Avenue] and block traffic. If you’re with me, say, ‘Aye,’” Radden said.
Radden’s protest, which started as a one-man affair broadcast on Facebook Live, has been repeatedly cited as the first local event to spring up in the aftermath of Floyd’s death, which has become a flashpoint for demonstrations that have unfolded worldwide over the last month.
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In the weeks since, Radden’s name has been championed both among protesters, who have embraced his case as yet another in a string of local injustices, and local politicians, with congresswoman Joyce Beatty mentioning Radden in a May 29 press release. “People are justifiably angered, crying out for answers but finding none,” Beatty said in the statement. “So, our community rose up in righteous anger, demanding justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and Christopher Radden, with the hope that demonstrating and protesting would bring to an end the legacy of racial terror that still plagues this nation.”
Of course, Radden wasn’t immediately aware of Beatty’s statement, since it was issued when he was still behind bars at Pike County Correctional Facility, charged with felony assault following a physical exchange with a Columbus police officer that took place shortly after 6 p.m. on Wednesday, May 27, little more than an hour after the planned start of his protest.
Prior to staking out the East Side corner, Radden painted a sign on a poster board, wanting to display a message that could clearly convey his frustrations with law enforcement, leaving no question as to his motivations for taking to the streets. “I didn’t want no mystery, or to hide what the fuck I’m feeling right now,” he said. “People hide what they want to say, and hide what their feelings really are, but I was like, ‘I want my sign to say how I really feel,’ and so it said, ‘Fuck the police.’”
Armed with his sign and a pistol, for which he said he is registered (Ohio is an open carry state), Radden decamped to the intersection of Lockbourne and Livingston, where his sign and presence were met with overwhelming public support, he said, with cars slowing down to honk and wave, and a small crowd eventually forming around him. “I was getting so much love. They were throwing money out the [car] window, weed, trying to pour me liquor,” he said. “I wasn’t trying to get in trouble, but it was like, ‘Goddamn, let’s go!’ I’msparked!”
Along with the crowd, Radden quickly attracted the attention of officers from the Columbus Division of Police, who surrounded the protesters but initially held back, according to Radden, who said one policeman cautioned his fellow officers to not take the bait. “He was like, ‘That’s just Radden. He wants you to go over there and say something. Let’s pull off,’” Radden said.
But not long after, when Radden stepped into the street, a cruiser pulled up and an officer confronted him. “And, I’m telling you, this guy didn’t waste any time before he went straight to work on me,” Radden said. “I heard, ‘Put your hands up,’ but he punched me again when I put my hands up. … That’s when I ducked down and sort of backed away from him and got up on the sidewalk. He chased me up on the sidewalk, clunked me in the head a couple more times. … I’m standing there and he’s trying to choke me, punch me, knock me out. And, if you watch the video, he stands back and lets me go, and then throws this punch from bum-fuck Egypt, and he was trying to knock me out. And if you look at the video, it looked like he hit me, but he didn’t because I’m good at bobbing and weaving.”
In that moment, Radden said, he was transported back to schoolyard fights and scraps with his older brothers, and so he started swinging, the punches “falling like the water is falling right now,” he said, referring to the rainy day in early June. “It felt natural.”
When the officer lost his balance and fell, Radden caught himself. “And I was like, ‘Oh, shit,’ and I put my hands up, because when he gets up he could potentially shoot me,” said Radden, whose felony assault charge was dismissed on June 9. (He is still being charged with Failure to Comply, and the case remains ongoing; CPD did not immediately reply to a request for comment about the incident.) “Any respect I have for him comes from the fact that he didn’t shoot me, but, at the same time, this all happened because he literally wanted to fight me. … He saw a Black man with a sign that said, ‘Fuck the police,’ and he saw a gun, and he went for me.”
With Radden held inside of Pike, the movement he unintentionally sparked started to grow, with multiple rallies held in late May at the East Side intersection at which he was arrested, quickly stretching into Downtown, the Short North and the various suburbs and small towns ringing the city.
“We are in solidarity with [Radden] and hoping that he is recovering well from the violence that he experienced at the hands of CPD,” said Dkéama Alexis of Black Queer & Intersectional Collective. “All of us in BQIC will continue to harness the revolutionary spirit that he was channeling that day in calling out racist and anti-Black police violence. It's good to know that there are a lot more folks prepared to take on the work."
Moving forward, Radden, who primarily credits community organizer and social justice advocate Sean Stevenson with helping secure his release from prison, hopes he can have a similar impact on the city as the one Stevenson has impressed upon him in just a few short weeks.
“Sean Stevenson, he’s the one that got me. I’m riding with him,” Radden said. “I want to affect the community right now, just like Sean’s showing me. I want to help people. I want to make sure your kid gets home from school without getting jumped. I want to paint your house. I want to plant a garden. I want to plant some flowers.”