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After chaos in Columbus, organizers want ‘peaceful’ protest in Dayton

Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl talks to the media Friday about the planned protest at the Dayton Federal Court Building on Second Street Saturday. JIM NOELKER/STAFF
Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl talks to the media Friday about the planned protest at the Dayton Federal Court Building on Second Street Saturday. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Multiple protest rallies are expected to take place in Dayton Saturday as part of national outcry against recent deaths of black men by police, and organizers say they want and expect non-violent rallies here so the community can avoid damage other cities have seen this week.

Dayton officials said Friday people understandably are frustrated and outraged by recent violent tragedies, but they expect the protests to be peaceful and lawful.

“Knowing our community like I do, it is certainly my expectation that it will be overwhelmingly law-abiding while engaging in any type of protest activity,” said Dayton police Chief Richard Biehl.

MORE: George Floyd protests erupt in Columbus: What we know now

Demonstrations and protests have been held in cities across the country after an unarmed black man named George Floyd died in police custody in Minneapolis.

A cell phone video showed a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on his neck for around eight minutes while Floyd was handcuffed on the ground. The officer in the incident was arrested Friday and charged with murder in Floyd’s death.

Protests also occurred earlier this spring to shine a spotlight on the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed black jogger in Georgia, who was pursued by multiple people and shot to death Feb. 23.

At least two protests are planned Saturday in downtown Dayton in response to what organizers say is racist violence against black people. One is at noon, the other in the evening.

The earlier vigil and protest calls for justice for Floyd, Arbery and other victims of police and racial violence, said Donald Domineck, the chair of Dayton Ohio Chapter of the New Black Panther Party.

People are very upset and outraged and this will be a desperately needed forum to voice their feelings, Domineck said.

“We want it to be passionate, but we want it to be peaceful,” Domineck said, noting that the event is expected to feature clergy and other community members who are unlikely to become disorderly.

The Dayton community has experienced many tragedies in the last year, but community members found a way to respond to each with “grace, grit, kindness and compassion,” Biehl said.

He said he expects community members will be lawful at today’s rallies, and the Dayton Police Department will protect protesters’ rights to gather.

But he said police will monitor community activities to ensure everyone is safe and protected, but he declined to share specific policing strategy.

“We look forward to a safe weekend for all community members,” he said.

Dayton has a history of peaceful protests, even amid times of anger about perceived injustice, according to a variety of community leaders.

“As Daytonians, we have shown our resolve time after time again,” said Derrick Foward, president of the Dayton Unit of the NAACP. “From the 1966 Dayton riots, to the 2011 death of Kylen English while in police custody, from the 2014 split-second officer-involved killing of John Crawford III at the Beavercreek Walmart, to the 2015 deputy-involved fatal shooting of Dontae Martin, we continue to exemplify greatness in times of challenge.”

Foward said Dayton citizens who decide to protest hopefully will do so in a civil manner, showing dignity and respect.

The onslaught of violence against black people across the country understandably impacts local residents, but the city has worked to address systemic disparities in the community and hopefully people feel heard and feel respected at events like those today, said Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley.

“We know that many people are very angry, sad, scared and frustrated,” she said. “We hope that the protests this weekend are a safe space for people to express this anger and demand change.”

Whaley said violence distracts from the important message that black lives matter.

Dayton “walked through hell last year,” but the community learned it was stronger together and stuck together during experiences that would have torn other communities apart, she said.

This is a uniquely tense time, because of the coronavirus crisis, mounting job losses and growing unemployment and existing and building frustration with disparities and inequities in society, said Will Smith, a member of the Dayton school board and the Dayton Community Police Council.

The Floyd video was particularly disturbing because it shows a man slowly dying, with an officer’s knee pinned to his neck, he said.

There’s been a lot of media attention paid to the rioting and vandalism caused by protesters, but it’s important not to lose sight of why people are so upset, Smith said.

Smith said many Dayton residents have had negative experiences with law enforcement, but there are a diverse group of people constantly working to improve police-community relations.

There is still much room for improvement, but the real recipe for disaster is complacency, he said.

The Dayton Community Police Council issued a statement saying that Floyd was murdered and its members grieve all the black lives that have been lost to these types of violent acts.

“We call on policy makers on all levels of government not to shrink from action by ensuring that justice is served in a fair and equitable manner and that necessary action is taken to address the casual taking of African American lives throughout our nation,” the council said. “As a council, we stand committed to this work.”

Moses Mbeseha, a member of the council, said some Dayton residents are not just upset about the Floyd video — they feel like they’ve been mistreated by local law enforcement.

Mbeseha said the city is being sued by the mother of Michael Tuck Sr., who was killed by Dayton police in 2019. She claims police used excessive force.

Mbeseha also mentioned a 2019 Facebook video of Dayton police officers arresting two people that went viral and led to significant online criticism, including claims that officers allowed the situation to escalate.

Mbeseha said he expects to see people come together and a display of solidarity at today’s events.

“I hope to see a lot of people out there,” he said. “I hope it’s safe, I hope it’s peaceful — it has to be, and it’s important that it is.”

Ohio Rep. Fred Strahorn, D-Dayton, said he feels bad both about the damage protesters caused in Columbus and also that protesters felt that angry and frustrated.

Years and even decades of growing feelings of injustice and mistreatment seems to be boiling over in some places, he said.

Dayton is not immune to the kinds of unrest other cities are seeing, but the mood in Dayton doesn’t seem to be quite the same, Strahorn said.

That could always change, because people want to see real action and change, and words and speeches aren’t going to cut it, Strahorn said.

But Strahorn said the people of Dayton protested the KKK-group’s rally with strength, restraint and class, and he expects they will act the same in other demonstrations.

“I think our folks have had a good track record of protesting and expressing their anger, frustration or displeasure in a peaceful way and keeping things under control,” he said.

Four racial incidents that sparked community-wide anger, protests

May 26, 2019

Nine members of a Ku Klux Klan-affiliated group from Indiana who marched on Courthouse Square were drowned out by 500 to 600 counter protesters a year ago.

The Indiana KKK group’s rally and counter-protest events resulted in no arrests, no uses of force by police, and no injuries.

An abundance of preparation and a safety plan that included 720 law officers and blocks of barricades proved costly, and community conversations before the rally exposed anew the inequities felt by black Daytonians.

The day following the rally, 300 residents gathered to symbolically cleanse Courthouse Square with incense, flowers prayer and song.

Aug. 5, 2014

The shooting death of John Crawford III in a Beavercreek Walmart by police prompted a string of local protests.

The 22-year-old Crawford, a Fairfield resident, was shot to death Aug. 5, 2014, by Beavercreek police Officer Sean Williams after a 911 caller told dispatchers a black man was holding a rifle, appeared to be loading it and waving it near people. Crawford was holding a Crosman MK-177 BB/pellet rifle that he found unboxed on a store shelf.

Beavercreek and the Crawford family reached at $1.7 million settlement earlier this month, nearly six years after the shooting death. A wrongful death suit continues against Walmart and is scheduled for trial Nov. 2.

March 19, 1994

A Klan group of 11 gathered in Courthouse Square in downtown Dayton. About 450 police in riot gear kept about 600 counter protestors and the curious away. Small skirmishes broke out and three people received minor injuries, but no arrests were made. The rally was preceded by peace and prayer events and followed the next day by a gathering of 500 community members to “reclaim” Courthouse Square.

Sept. 1, 1966

The drive-by shooting of a black man in front of his home early the morning of Sept. 1, 1966 kicked off one of the Dayton’s worst race riots. The killing of Lester Mitchell set off a day looting, riots and the armed response of National Guardsmen.

There were numerous injuries and more than 500 arrests. City services were briefly suspended. Trains were re-routed. One estimate put the cost of public safety alone at $20,000 a day, or nearly $150,000 in 2016 dollars. Police estimated property damage at about $250,000, or nearly $1.9 million in 2016 dollars.

No one ever was convicted for Mitchell’s death.