Rainbow Rant: When working groups take the place of real change

Joy Ellison
Columbus Division of Police officers stand in formation during protests Downtown on May 29.

Mayor Ginther says he wants to end police violence, but he opposes defunding the police. Something about that is suspicious to me.

Things seemed fine when Ginther announced that he was banning police from using tear gas for crowd control and restricting the use of pepper spray to responding to “clear instances of violence.” But a few days later, police pepper sprayed protesters again, including a Black disabled man. Guess what Ginther said? He believed the officers acted in accordance with his new policy.

Of course, Ginther is investigating what happened — and that’s his plan for dealing with police violence. He wants a whole lot of investigations, so he is appointing a police review board. 

Well, actually, he has appointed a working group that will, eventually, design the blueprint for an appointed police review board. I don’t envy the long, painful meetings Ginther’s working group is going to sit through.

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Police review boards date back to the 1930s, and they don’t have a good track record of stopping police violence, especially when they are appointed. Generally, their real mission isn’t to end police violence, but to restore the public trust in police. 

Watching Ginther over the last month has been puzzling. Why would he do everything he can to appear to address racist police violence while committing to nothing meaningful? It took me a while to figure it out, but then I thought to myself, “Man, this is torture.” And then it hit me: Maybe Mayor Ginther is a demon trying to torture us. I’m not sure, but this is definitely the Bad Place. 

Of course, Ginther has done a few things right. First, he stated that the future board will have subpoena power, which will go a long way toward making its investigations meaningful. Second, the police union won’t have a representative, although one member of Ginther’s working group is a former law enforcement official. Lastly, some of the people appointed to the working group have demonstrated their commitment to Black liberation. 

The anti-racist members of Ginther’s working group will soon be faced with an ethical dilemma. Let’s call it the activist version of the trolly problem: Do you spend your precious time working within a corrupt system to reform it in hopes of improving lives right now, or do you work outside the system for a revolution that might not come? 

There is one solution to this ethical dilemma: We should demand immediate reforms that are meaningful steps toward an eventual world where police are obsolete, like getting police out of schools, cutting police budgets and investing in Black communities.

Instead, politicians like Ginther are recommending investigations, working groups and endless dialogues. They are painting “Black Lives Matter” on streets, even though we know that renaming roads to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has not prevented one police murder. This process is torturous and a deadly waste of time. It won’t lead to justice because it does nothing to give Black people more power.

I’d rather be chased by a bear with two mouths.