Justice

In Ohio, Black Youth Won’t Let Another Police Shooting Fade Into The Background

CREDIT: From the Millenial Activists Twitter account.

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CREDIT: From the Millenial Activists Twitter account.

It’s been more than a month since 22-year-old John Crawford III was shot dead in an Ohio Wal-Mart for carrying a BB gun that he picked up on the store shelves — just days before the death of Michael Brown. Store surveillance tape captured the incident that the Crawford family lawyer says implicates the police. But the public hasn’t seen it.

UPDATE

The grand jury voted Wednesday not to indict either officer for the shooting, and portions of the surveillance video were played after the announcement. Coverage of that announcement and video is available here.

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One of the two officers involved in the shooting is already back at work. A witness who called 911, Ronald Ritchie, initially said Crawford was pointing the gun at people in the store. But Ritchie later backtracked on his story, saying only that he was “waving” the gun and that “at no point did he shoulder the rifle and point it at somebody.”

With grand jury proceedings underway, the incident has faded from public view, even as tensions re-escalate in Ferguson, Missouri over Michael Brown this week. But some 100 individuals walked 11 miles on Monday in a youth-led movement to draw attention back — not just to Crawford but to the national epidemic of police brutality against African Americans.

“We as a community in the surrounding areas are demanding the indictment of the police officers for the murder of this young man and we want no lesser charge,” said Jovan Webster, a student at Central State University and one of the organizers of the “John Crawford Pilgrimage.” The march started at the Wal-Mart where Crawford was shot and ended at at the courthouse where a grand jury will weigh whether to indict the officers involved in the incident, and where another 100-or-so individuals stood by in support. For the two days following the march, participants are standing outside the court, where they are engaging in workshops and organizing exercises to build a reform movement.

Protesters said the march was peaceful and that they felt supported, not antagonized by police. And the movement comes as tensions re-emerged Tuesday night in Ferguson over reports that Michael Brown’s memorial was burned.

Webster said one of the aims of the protest is to show the community that people are watching, and that they will not forget about Crawford. “We won’t let up like we did in the past,” he said.

Much of the local momentum came from the Ohio Student Association, a relatively new group that organizes around issues of racial and social justice. But organizers from a number of movements, including the immigration group United We Dream, and Freedom Side, a national coalition of student groups like OSA, came to Ohio to participate.

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“The objective of the march was to bring awareness to the mass killings of black people,” said Aramis Sundiata, a local organizer. He said after the death of Trayvon Martin, some newly emerging student groups started to coalesce around the issue of young black deaths. When Michael Brown and John Crawford were shot, he said, “We were able to recognize what’s happening in Ferguson and we were already organized enough to be able to go out to various locations.”

Amna Akbar, a law professor at The Ohio State University who served as a legal observer during the march, said she became acquainted with Ohio Student Association during a regional vigil for Michael Brown. She said participants were encouraged to go into the middle of a circle and speak during the gathering, and that what stood out about OSA were their calls for organizing and action, in addition to their outrage. “When I saw they were doing that I thought these young people are really organized.” She said they understood that the death occurred within a “broader political context” and linked the frequency of black deaths not just to police reform, but to other issues like student debt, the school-to-prison pipeline, and violence and deportation of immigrant families.

They also noted the irony of Crawford’s shooting for carrying a BB gun, when Ohio is a state that allows open carry for even more dangerous weapons:

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CREDIT: From the Twitter account of Owl Akata Shakur

Webster said among the more immediate key demands of the marchers is that Wal-Mart release surveillance footage of the incident. Thus far, they have only agreed to show segments of the tape to Crawford’s family and his lawyer.

Police said in a statement that Crawford was “waving a rifle-type weapon at customers, including children.” But we know the “rifle” was a variable air pump rifle, used for target-shooting and small game-hunting but designed to look like a real, more deadly weapon. But Crawford family lawyer Michael Wright, who viewed some of the footage, said Crawford was just holding the BB gun he picked up off the store shelf in the toy aisle, and likely intended to buy. “When the police came … the BB gun was in a down position,” Wright said. “He was kinda using the BB gun as what it looked like was a crutch. He was just leaning on it. And at some point, he raised it up and he was shot and killed. At no point in time was he facing the officers. At no point in time was there any type of suggestive movements or anything like that.”

Even in the same time period as the Crawford and Brown deaths, several other young black men were killed by police in questionable circumstances, including Ezell Ford in Los Angeles and Darrien Hunt in Utah, lending to local organizers’ sense that their response must be not just local but systemic.

On Tuesday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder honed in on this same sentiment in public remarks, saying,”Will we again turn a blind eye to the hard truths that Ferguson exposed, burying these tough realities until another tragedy arises to set them off like a powder keg? Or will we finally accept this mandate for open and honest dialogue, reach for new and innovative solutions, and rise to the historic challenge – and the critical opportunity – now right before us?”

“As a black person in the black community,” Webster said in Ohio, you can be “a law-abiding citizen but yet you don’t feel like you reap any benefits from living in a society that’s supposed to be a land of the free. You don’t feel that free. All the scrutiny that you go under, it’s kinda stressful. So there’s really been an outcry for justice among black youth.”

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