One of two city of Dayton employees who were arrested during protests in the city last weekend said he encountered a “brute” display of police force while acting peacefully and lawfully.
Human Relations Council employees Senay Semere and Edward Bronston, who are black, were arrested and charged with low-level misdemeanor counts of disorderly conduct and failure to disperse. They pleaded not guilty to the charges this week.
Semere, 36, said he doesn’t know why he was arrested by police after he worked to try to keep the crowd peaceful, move protesters back and encouraged people to disperse.
Semere said his arrest and experience being processed and thrown in jail was very frustrating, traumatizing and “symptomatic of what’s going on in America.”
“I’ve spent my entire life on the right side of the law,” he said, adding that his comments are as a Dayton citizen and not in any official capacity. “And if someone like me can’t avoid it, how can any other black man in America avoid being in the prison system?”
In a statement, Bronston said, “The excessive force used not only on myself but my colleagues and members of the Dayton community experienced over this past weekend is unacceptable, and we have to hold the Dayton Police Department accountable.”
“I want to be an example for our future leaders to be bold in action against injustice, oppression and violence,” his statement said.
Law enforcement made 43 arrests during protests in Dayton over the weekend, and those arrested included the the son of UD's basketball coach and an employee of the Montgomery County Prosecutor's Office.
After the weekend’s events, Dayton police leadership said most protesters were peaceful and lawful, but dozens of people were arrested, many on charges of misconduct at an emergency and failing to disperse.
Some people were charged with curfew violations, while others were charged with obstructing official business.
Semere and Bronston on Saturday afternoon were arrested on Wayne Avenue, near District Provisions, home to Crafted & Cured.
Semere is the director of the Dayton Minority Business Assistance Center. Bronston, 50, is a senior contract compliance officer.
Semere said he other community leaders walked at the front of the march that started at the federal building and winded its way to Wayne Avenue, where it ran into a line of police, blocking the path to U.S. 35.
Semere said they wanted to be at the head of the pack because they have relationships with police officers and believed they could help keep interactions peaceful and safe, and they could prevent tensions from escalating.
“I think it was my civic duty as a city member, as a city employee, as a community member, to take that initiative to try to help the protest and peaceful march move forward in a non-violent way,” he said.
Police allowed protesters to pass or push through multiple lines of officers, until they got by Crafted & Cured, where they set up a barricade of bikes, officers and cruisers.
Semere said unfortunately at that time a peaceful demonstration against excessive police force was met with some unnecessary and uncalled-for police force.
Police ordered the crowd to disperse or face arrest, and Semere said most of the crowd was moving back when he headed toward an establishment on Wayne Avenue, whose owners he knows.
Semere said an officer who he believes works for another city department used unnecessary physical force against one of his companions.
Semere said he put his hands up but was arrested swiftly, before he could really talk to the arresting officer.
A single-page incident report obtained by the Dayton Daily News only says that Semere was arrested during a protest for failure to disperse.
Multiple officers’ names were listed on the report — all of whom work for the Dayton Police Department — but this newspaper could not confirm by deadline who Semere encountered.
Dayton police indicated they arrested Semere.
Semere said he told a Dayton officer after his arrest that he was out there trying to help, and that he had his city badge in his pocket. Semere said the officer did not listen and criticized his way of thinking.
Semere said he was released from jail the same day, but likely only because word of his arrest spread and people worked hard to get him out.
Some protesters who were arrested over the weekend were still in jail earlier this week.
“It shouldn’t take me showing my resume, or flashing a badge, to simply get treated like a human being,” Semere said, adding that being booked and incarcerated is a traumatizing experience.
Semere said police incidents across the nation have brought people together to demonstrate, and hopefully these events will lead to real change. He also said he hopes and believes the charges against him will be dismissed.
Bronston said he wants to achieve some substantial changes in the policies that led to the Saturday afternoon protest.
“There’s currently a group of political, business and church leaders planning an event to share our processes with youth and young leaders so that this situation takes the Dayton area to a better place,” he said.
On Wednesday, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley said she saw some videos posted on social media of police conduct during the protests that does not reflect the city’s values.
She asked people who believe they experienced police misconduct to contact firstname.lastname@example.org.