Oregon District business owner: Protesters don’t want reform. They want transformation

Jason Harrison co-owns Present Tense Fitness in Dayton's Oregon District with is wife, Susan.
Jason Harrison co-owns Present Tense Fitness in Dayton's Oregon District with is wife, Susan.

Credit: Photo by Amelia Robinson

Credit: Photo by Amelia Robinson

“When evaluating the city’s actions and any future policy measures, we ought to ask: do these initiatives re-balance the power and influence of the police department through budgeting that prioritizes the health and wellness of the community,” Jason Harrison, Dayton business owner.

(NOTE: This guest column appeared on the Dayton Daily News’ Ideas and Voices page Sunday, June 6, 2020. Community Impact Editor Amelia Robinson asked a diverse group of people with ties to the Dayton area how our black community’s relationship with our police can be improved. Columns from other participants are linked throughout this piece.)

A 2015 study on policing published in the St. Louis University Public Law Review found that riot gear and aggressive formations can increase the likelihood of violence during civil unrest.

>> RELATED: Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley says  ‘I still believe in our ability to live up to our values’

And a United Nations independent expert last week wrote in the Washington Post that police departments that use chemical agents indiscriminately — particularly, one might imagine, in the midst of a pandemic caused by a respiratory virus — fall well short of international norms.

On the afternoon of May 30, hundreds of people peacefully gathered in Dayton to decry both George Floyd’s state-sanctioned murder and the environment of systemic segregation that facilitated it. Their calls for an end to this violence were met by the Dayton police in full riot gear and the use of chemical agents.

In the hours following the police department’s use of escalatory violence, Mayor Nan Whaley praised its work for keeping the community safe. By the following Wednesday — conveniently just hours after this newspaper reported community-police relations coordinator Jared Grandy’s resignation in protest over the police department’s inability to reform — city leadership announced five policy measures purportedly intended to improve the dynamic between the police and the community.

When evaluating the city’s actions and any future policy measures, we ought to ask: Do these initiatives re-balance the power and influence of the police department through budgeting that prioritizes the health and wellness of the community?

Do they change the actual impact of policing on those who are policed?

>> RELATED: Dayton activist says police, all others need to join the cause of justice

Do they develop non-police solutions to the problems our communities face?

Do they recognize that police interactions with black people are dangerous for black people because the system was historically designed to be that way?

The mayor and the city government used curfews, chemicals and militarized police to quiet the voices of the city’s people over the weekend, but they did not stem the violence at the center of activists’ righteous discontent.

RELATED: Retired Dayton police major says  ‘racism is in the groundwater’

During tumultuous times, there is the impulse among some to say that we are “better than this.” The truth they haven’t yet digested is that the police and carceral systems are working as originally intended.

That’s why we’re seeing the urgency with which people have risked their lives to take to the streets even as COVID-19 continues to silently kill.

They’re not seeking reform.

They’re seeking transformation.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Send your thoughts to edletter@coxinc.com. For verification purposes, include a daytime phone number and your address.

Jason Harrison co-owns Present Tense Fitness, a gym in Dayton’s historic Oregon District neighborhood.

In Other News