Dayton protests: Worried by violence; hopeful for change

The death of George Floyd triggered days of demonstrations in Dayton and nationwide, with some local leaders now more hopeful for changes in treatment of black people, and others increasingly concerned about violence tied to the protests.

Floyd’s death after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes has resonated widely as many American communities have seen police-involved deaths of black residents. Every large city in Ohio saw protests and demonstrations this weekend.

“I am so hopeful right now, because I’m seeing so many young people involved,” said Zakiya Sankara-Jabar, co-founder of Dayton’s Racial Justice NOW group. “There’s a lot of young white kids out there … there’s all kinds of people out there, there were people in Amish community. People in London, Toronto and Berlin are protesting because they see what’s happening to African-American people in the United States.”

EARLIER: Dayton area church leaders: Protestors’ voices not being heard

Daylong demonstrations Saturday included clashes between protesters and police both on Wayne Avenue and near City Hall. As with many protests across the country, some people chanted and held signs seeking change, while others threw bottles at police and broke store windows. Law enforcement officers threw tear gas and fired rubber bullets to disperse crowds.

Some protesters argued police escalated the situation, pepper-spraying people without warning or shooting pepper balls “blindly” into the crowd.

Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl disagreed Sunday, saying police encountered protesters Saturday “who had no interest in being law-abiding,” who put people at risk and had an intention of committing violence against police.

Biehl said 36 people were arrested Saturday, with two-thirds of those listed as city of Dayton residents.

“This was not a lawful event. It was not a helpful event in any way. For anyone who felt the need to protest, this was not the way to do it,” Biehl said. “The law enforcement action taken was necessary and appropriate.”

The city of Dayton instituted a 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew on Saturday night including downtown, the Oregon District and points south to Stewart Street. Dayton Mayor Whaley said it was the first city curfew in her 15 years as city commissioner or mayor. Then the city expanded the curfew Sunday, with the starting time moved up to 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. The curfew will be imposed until the threat to public safety has been eliminated.

Biehl said at least two people were arrested in downtown Dayton for violating the Sunday curfew.

“A large group of individuals engaged in protests in downtown Dayton today,” according to a statement Biehl released Sunday evening. “They marched for a couple of hours and then dispersed without incident. The conduct of those who demonstrated showed that one can engage in lawful protests and still effectively communicate their concerns and advocacy for social justice.

“There was also a large group of demonstrators that gathered peacefully at McIntosh Park and then dispersed.”

RELATED: Gov. Mike DeWine activates National Guard, Ohio State Highway Patrol in Columbus

That curfew pushed up against a Sunday night protest that had been planned for 6 p.m. One of the organizers of that event, Sarah Caplan, said it was intended as a quiet vigil “to acknowledge the names of people who have been killed at the hands of the police.”

“We are coming together to allow people a safe space to share their experiences regarding being black in America, grieve for their losses, and commune with each other in a supportive atmosphere with allies at their side,” Caplan said.

Demetrius Hicks was among the protesters, saying the more people who get involved in the movement, the more their message will be heard. He walked with Artasja Hicks, who said she was “fighting for my people.”

They had their 6-year-old son with them.

“He might not be able to understand this now, but at least he can see what is going on and see this is a reality,” Demetrius Hicks said.

Sunday’s protests in Dayton were much more muted in the early part of the day. By the time the 7 p.m. curfew hit, there had been no significant clashes with police.

RELATED: Dayton curfew to remain in place; community begins cleanup

Gregory Phillips and Phillip Smith Sr. said they watched Saturday’s protests from their perch at the Biltmore Towers on North Main Street.

“It was good the beginning of it,“ Phillips said. “Later on – as it started to wind down – chaos started to erupt … I just wanted to keep it clean (so) your voices can be heard. But with the violence, that just continues on and brings more violence. We’re trying to stop that.”

Jordan Buffington of Beavercreek was cleaning up a broken window in front of Lily’s Bistro in the Oregon District on Sunday morning.

She said she wanted to help out, but she did not want to face tear gas and large crowds. She thought the protesters were justified in their anger.

“It goes to show you that people doing the damage aren’t people out here for a reason, they’re here for personal gain,” she said. “The community and the cause aren’t the ones doing damage.”

In a year when the world’s focus has been on fighting a coronavirus outbreak, Sankara-Jabar said America still faces a pandemic of anti-black racism.

“We’ve been beating the bully pulpit on that for years, but you have to change policies. We want accountability,” she said. “Police officers need to lose pensions and be prosecuted for this behavior. … We want the politicians to move past the platitudes and pass laws that will protect people from being killed by police.”

Whaley said she knows the city of Dayton is not perfect in its efforts to battle racism. She said city officials will continue working with residents on efforts to dismantle systemic racism, referencing not just police, but all city departments.

“We welcome people to the table who want to be thoughtful, who want to really change systems,”

Whaley said. “There are many people in our community who … have been working on it for decades, and we appreciate that, but we’re looking forward to new voices, too.”

But Whaley echoed Biehl in saying Saturday’s demonstrations took a bad turn.

“We cannot support efforts that are a threat to public safety or a threat to damage our community,” she said.

Floyd’s death came just two weeks after the city of Beavercreek agreed to a $1.7 million settlement with the family of John Crawford III, a black man who was shot and killed by a Beavercreek police officer at Walmart in 2014. A grand jury declined to indict that officer, Sean Williams, on any criminal charges.

Donald Domineck, who helped organize one of the weekend’s local rallies, said change needs to happen.

“Passions got a little hot,” he said of Saturday’s events. “But I understand the passion. But I hope we can really get something done, beside just raising hell.”