Protesters: ‘It’s not just a finish line,’ lot of work still to achieve racial equity

A crowd gathers at Courthouse Square for a Black Lives Matter protest, June 6. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF
A crowd gathers at Courthouse Square for a Black Lives Matter protest, June 6. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF

People who took to the streets in cities across the Dayton region one year ago say a long journey remains for our community and our country to achieve racial equity.

“I want to see after a lot of reforms have been implemented, that we remember it’s not just a finish line,” said Will Smith, a Dayton school board member and engagement coordinator for city of Dayton police reform initiatives.

The murder of George Floyd — a Black man killed on May 25, 2020, by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin — generated a worldwide groundswell of support for the racial justice movement. Chauvin was convicted of murder and other charges last month.

Protests were held in Dayton and at least 30 communities across our region over several weeks last summer.

Last June, the Dayton Daily News asked protesters why they were protesting and what changes they wanted to see. A year later, the newspaper interviewed those people again and asked how much progress they believe has been made and what they still see that needs to be done.

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Answers varied. Some are encouraged by honest conversations about race happening locally and area officials’ ongoing attempts at law enforcement reform. Others said local leaders have not gone nearly far enough to reimagine our institutions, particularly the law enforcement and criminal justice systems. All six of them said there is still work left to do.

In their own words, these are how those protesters are feeling a year later. Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Click the purple play button below to hear the interviews

Frederick Leon Cox III, Dayton community advocate. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
Frederick Leon Cox III, Dayton community advocate. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

FREDERICK LEON COX III, community advocate

Has enough progress been made?

I still feel like there is a ton of work to do. Locally, we have obviously brought law enforcement accountability to the top of the list of priorities. I’ve seen the city of Dayton attempt efforts to look at the way in which law enforcement interacts with the community. That’s the exact same thing we did in 2011 after Kylen English’s death on the Salem bridge. And here we are in 2021 doing that again. So if I had to say has there been progress, I’d say no, because we are not moving differently than we have moved a decade before. To me, law enforcement reform efforts in the city in the past year are reactive measures that shows a city that is not progressive. These recommendations are not new. These conversations are not new. I don’t see the current efforts as progress but I do see it as an indicator of new people invested in the conversation. I’d like to see some accountability on the end of the people who are given the privilege to protect and serve.

What still needs to be done?

There’s a national conversation going on around qualified immunity. They are given some sort of privilege that says they cannot personally be sued or their pensions cannot personally be impacted by a decision that they make and that really scares the Black community, who has had a history of injustice with law enforcement. And I think that there’s got to be some conversations locally around the union contract with the Fraternal Order of Police that suggests that if a police officer does something around here locally, they can be personally held accountable.

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Lynda Huggins
Lynda Huggins

LYNDA HUGGINS, educator, 25-year Dayton resident and mother of three young Black men

Has enough progress been made?

I would be lying if I said I was hopeful. Even during the Chauvin case itself, there were other police shootings, African Americans and other people being killed. I was very happy about the verdict, but it’s not solving the problem until we actually have a bill in place that will hold police officers accountable, that will make them think twice.

What still needs to be done?

I want policy and laws in place that will assure that this will stop happening. I would like for police officers to engage more with the community. First of all let’s train our officers in de-escalation. And let’s make a department that handles non-violent distress calls with people who are trained that can go in there and manage the situation instead of pulling a gun.

I feel like sometimes people who are 100% for for police officers, no matter what, when other people say police reform, they just get offended and automatically think you’re trying to take money away from people who protect them. Instead of getting defensive, I think that people need to just come to the table and listen.

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The Rev. Kellie C. Kelly of the Miami Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship raises her hands during a protest in Beavercreek on Monday. JIM NOELKER/STAFF
The Rev. Kellie C. Kelly of the Miami Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship raises her hands during a protest in Beavercreek on Monday. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

KELLIE KELLY, minister, Miami Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship

Has enough progress been made?

Progress has been made in the sense that so many more people are aware. However, justice in one case is an easy place to stop and I feel that one of the challenges is the focus on these individual cases takes us away from the bigger changes we have to make. It’s an industry where people make a lot of money, putting Black people in jail, and putting them in detention centers and deporting them. It’s a huge business any way that we look at it, and that hasn’t changed very much. My hope is that we’ll keep on working and keep on making advancements.

What still needs to be done?

Our denomination uses the word abolition and the reason why we say that is because we have seen through history how the word reform has been used to just manipulate and change the oppression. We believe that racism is a cancer that will continue to evolve as long as we allow it and words like reform aren’t strong enough. I used to resist talking about prison abolition. However, I think the data shows us that it makes people worse. We are all more than our worst mistake. It’s really complicated and I do think that it’s what we have to figure out: how to create systems so that communities can be more involved.

Chaz Amos, 2020 Thurgood Marshall High School graduate. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
Chaz Amos, 2020 Thurgood Marshall High School graduate. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

CHAZ AMOS, 2020 Thurgood Marshall High School graduate and current Sinclair Community College student

Has enough progress been made?

Justice has been served but I feel like we have a lot of work to do a year later. Because even though it’s a year later from the event, things are still happening that require attention, so we can’t be too lax because of this guilty verdict. It’s hard to say now if enough progress has been made. I think that over time we just have to see how the police reforms work. I’m very faithful in the (city of Dayton) police reform board and what they’re going to bring out.

What still needs to be done?

There’s a lot of communication that still needs to be done. There still needs to be that connection between police and the community. A lot of people have become anti-police, but that’s not what it takes in order to move forward. We have to make our stance and they have to make their stance. I believe strongly that there will be a time where we’re able to sit down and have those conversations, where the police are talking to the community. Things like the police reform working groups are going to have to continue, not just for six months but indefinitely.

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Will Smith, Dayton school board member. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
Will Smith, Dayton school board member. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

WILL SMITH, Dayton Public Schools Board of Education member, engagement coordinator for city of Dayton police reform initiatives

Has enough progress been made?

I’m glad that enough people were upset that things were carried out differently than usual. I will say that with that, there is no magic wand. In the last year, we’ve seen just in our state, people lose their life. It always feels like it’s not fast enough. Even if you were to make all these changes today, there are people who needed that change a month ago, a year ago, five years ago. I’m encouraged by what I’ve seen, because what I’ve seen is a lot of people coming together, a lot of people lifting their voices and people not just being silent.

What still needs to be done?

Going forward, I want to see after a lot of reforms have been implemented, that we remember it’s not just a finish line. There has to be things constantly looked at, looking at the impact, looking at how things work. And people need to realize a lot of the things that need to be addressed won’t visually be in your face as much as the George Floyd incident. We need to talk about cash bail reform, recidivism, formerly incarcerated individuals reentering society. These aren’t stories that really pull at the heartstrings of people and really get a lot of people moving. These things get people moving that understand what goes on, but those numbers aren’t the same level. So what I want to see moving forward is understanding that there’s a lot that goes on in our criminal justice system that might seem small that has been impacted by systemic racism for years and years. And people need to demand change at the same level.

DARIA DILLARD STONE, Founder/CEO of Sharing Ministries LLC; motto: The Servant
DARIA DILLARD STONE, Founder/CEO of Sharing Ministries LLC; motto: The Servant

Credit: Photo: courtesy of YWCA Dayton

Credit: Photo: courtesy of YWCA Dayton

DARIA DILLARD STONE, Founder/CEO of Sharing Ministries LLC; motto: The Servant

Has enough progress been made?

Of course I have not seen much progress since last summer; it is too soon. Awareness is key and that has happened, if nothing else. I was hoping that last year with the protests that it wouldn’t stop there. That’s what happens: We do a march and we talk and we march and we pray and we march. And then we stop — until it happens again. The conversation kept going this time. I’ve been in conversations in the last year where we are trying to bring races together. I have never been in meetings where people were that honest. Those are the conversations we need to have if we’re going to reimagine Dayton, if we’re going to reimagine America.

What still needs to be done?

I don’t have all the answers. All I know is we need to keep having the conversations that we’re having, and they can’t be so uncomfortable that we are willing to let things stay the same. I don’t know what that looks like, but I know we cannot stay silent. There’s nobody that can be excluded from the conversation of how do we reimagine our world, how we reimagine Dayton.

Next Sunday, the Dayton Daily News will publish an article on reforms area law enforcement agencies made in the last year and compare steps taken to the eight-point plan laid out by the Dayton Unit NAACP last summer.

Listen to interviews with the protesters in the latest episode of the Dayton Daily News The Path Forward at daytondailynews.com/list/path-forward-podcast or wherever you get your podcasts.

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