Organizer says expect ‘plenty’ more protests in Dayton region

After local protests of George Floyd’s death, the focus is turning to what happens next, but some police and local black leaders are coming from very different starting points on how that relationship stands.

Multiple protesters and event organizers this weekend said that police in the Miami Valley harass black residents. Donald Domineck, who helped organize Saturday’s first rally, said he thinks too many police have a negative baseline perception of black residents, leading to unnecessary mistrust and escalation.

“The attitudes that exist in police departments not just in Dayton but all over America foster a negative relationship between the African-American community and police,” Domineck said. “I don’t feel as though police departments want to change.”

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Jerry Dix, president of Dayton’s Fraternal Order of Police union, disagreed Monday, saying that perception “is not reality at all,” in the Dayton Police Department, pointing to multiple attempts at community outreach. He said the relationship and trust between police and black residents is a two-way street and called for work to be done by people on both sides.

“Myself, my organization, Chief Biehl and the city of Dayton police department would like nothing more than to establish a good working rapport with this community, to make sure they have our back and we have theirs,” Dix said.

Domineck, who is Dayton chair of the New Black Panther Party, said the Better Dayton Coalition is working on putting together a town hall meeting on the topic in the next week or two.

The city of Dayton on Monday afternoon announced it had no plans to enforce a curfew as it had the previous two nights, as major protests did not appear to be planned downtown.

But activists kept going elsewhere Monday, notably with a sit-in rally in Beavercreek next to the Wal-Mart where John Crawford III was shot and killed by police in 2014. The store closed early, and tear gas was deployed at hundreds of protesters who blocked a busy intersection.

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Protesters say they’ll keep moving forward until real change is made to end police mistreatment of minorities.

“There is going to be plenty more,” said Ronald Woodland II, 30, of Dayton, who helped organize Saturday evening’s event downtown. “Me personally, I won’t stop until we get the national attention we deserve and get the national conversation we want to hear.”

Woodland, who describes himself as a fed-up community member, said he plans to hold another protest this weekend and will continue to organize them for as long as they are needed.

“I’ll do this every weekend, and there are many people just as fired up as I am who are willing to go into the smaller towns and do this on weekdays and get people involved who are upset about the lack of progress,” he said.

“I am willing to go until my legs fall off,” Woodland said.

Many people who took part in protest events over the weekend said the events themselves are only meaningful if they start conversations and spark actions that lead to real changes in policy and culture.

Domineck echoed comments Sunday from Racial Justice NOW’s Zakiya Sankara-Jabar, calling for legislative changes to decrease the risk of fatal incidents involving police and black residents.

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He pointed to a proposal from Ohio Families Unite Against Police Brutality to mandate certain de-escalation training for law enforcement officers. That group was founded by Sabrina Jordan, whose son Jemarco McShann was killed by Moraine police officers in 2017.

But the depth of the gap between some protesters and police was evident from comments this weekend. Dayton school board member Gabriela Pickett called out otherwise good cops who “turn a blind eye” to misconduct by their peers. Domineck put the same idea in different words.

“I always say that police culture is similar to the gang culture, where you take a good kid and you put him into a bad culture, and he does what that culture requires of him,” he said.

Dix, representing rank-and-file Dayton police officers, argued that bad culture simply isn’t tolerated in the department, from early police academy training to speak up and weed out the “rotten apples” that may get through, to internal affairs cases where all parties “stress truthfulness.”

“If another officer needs to be held accountable for something that they may have done or said, then we will deal with that part. We don’t try to cover things up here,” Dix said. “If you look back at the record of people who have been employed here and have been internal affairs here, you’ll see that there’s not much tolerance for lying or trying to cover up other officers’ wrongdoing.”

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Woodland said community members across the region want to know that they are going to be protected by the government, and not just policed. He called the Dayton police reaction to weekend protests “piss-poor” because the events were peaceful.

Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl said while most protesters were peaceful, police fired pepper spray to disperse crowds because a smaller number were throwing things at police or putting people at risk by driving wildly downtown.

Dayton police arrested 43 people on Saturday and Sunday, overwhelmingly on misdemeanor charges, which included misconduct at an emergency, disorderly conduct, riot and obstructing official business.

Woodland said the problem is not just a Dayton issue, pointing to a recent study of the racial breakdown of Oakwood traffic stops.

Sankara-Jabar cited Montgomery County’s $900,000 settlement of the Dontae Martin wrongful death case last fall, after he was shot 13 times in Harrison Twp. by sheriff deputies in 2015. Monday’s protesters chose the Wal-Mart area where Crawford was killed in 2014. Beavercreek recently settled that wrongful death case for $1.7 million.

Officers were not convicted of any crime in either the Martin or Crawford case.

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Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley said she has no idea what to expect from protests moving forward, especially because some of the organizers are unfamiliar and unknown to her.

“Certainly I’m concerned, mostly because a lot of them now are not organized groups who have done work in the community around race issues,” she said.

Protester Lynda Huggins said Saturday that black people are tired of violence by police and other white people who feel threatened, even in routine, everyday situations. Minorities need white people to speak up and stand with them to accomplish more, she said.

“We need your help, and anybody who claims to be my friend, or are my son’s teachers, or who claim to care about my kids — if you don’t march with us, do you really care?” she said.

Stephanie McFarland, 23, of Centerville, said she attended Saturday afternoon’s rally because she is fed up with national leadership and thinks it’s important that people stand up and share their outrage.

McFarland, who is attending law school out of state, said she wasn’t worried about the event getting out of hand, but hoped protesters’ message would not be lost or overshadowed by any clashes with police.

“I think that if we are concerned about damage and riots and not concerned about why people feel they need to do that, then I think people are missing the issue,” she said.