How we got here: The George Floyd protests in Columbus

Andy Downing
Mia Santiago of the Columbus Freedom Coalition is dragged out of the Martin Luther King, Jr. breakfast after interrupting Mayor Ginther, protesting the death of Julius Tate, Jr. at the Greater Columbus Convention Center on Jan. 20.

For the last week, cities nationwide, including Columbus, have been embroiled in massive protests rooted in inequality and police violence against the black community. But while the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police might have provided the trigger, these tensions have been building locally for years, and in some case decades. 

Here's a look back at some of the events that have led to this historic point in time. (Short excerpts from each story are provided below the links.)

The roots of Columbus' ongoing color divide

By 1936, the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC), a federal agency, created “Residential Security” maps of major American cities, including Columbus. The maps shaded neighborhoods in one of four colors to indicate their grade; green was “best,” blue was “still desirable,” yellow was “definitely declining” and red was “hazardous.” Citizens living in red areas, which were almost always populated by African-Americans and immigrant communities, found themselves “redlined” by banks and other lending institutions. Even though Bronzeville was a wealthier area than the Blackberry Patch and Flytown (located just south of Goodale Park), the HOLC redlined all three areas.

In March [2018], the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC) released a study that compared the HOLC’s redlined neighborhoods with their current economic and social conditions and found that, despite some heavily gentrified areas, the segregation and economic inequality in those areas persist today. According to the NCRC, 82 percent of Columbus’ “hazardous” neighborhoods are low-to-moderate income today — higher than the national average of 74 percent. And 89 percent of Columbus’ “best” neighborhoods are middle-to-upper income; they’re also 91 percent white.

Community confronts safety issues in the aftermath of Ty're King death

Fatal, police-involved shootings of African-Americans have been at the forefront of national discussion in recent years, and now Columbus finds itself in that conversation. On Sept. 14, Ty’re King, 13, was shot and killed in Olde Towne East by Columbus Division of Police Officer Bryan Mason. The incident has gained international attention and moved city officials, activists and artists to examine safety issues in Columbus.

According to police, officers arrived at the scene in response to a 911 call reporting an armed robbery by a group of teens. Police confronted King, who officers say then pulled what was later found to be a BB gun from his waistband. Mason shot King in response.


“Ty’re had lots of interests in different things, he was ... a very talented young man with a lot of skills,” said King’s grandmother, Dearrea King, at a Sept. 27 press conference held by the family at the Columbus Urban League. She talked about his adeptness in gymnastics and how he was very protective of his mother. “I know the character of my grandson. I know what my grandson meant to his mother and to his sisters. What we want — what we all want — is justice.”

When It Happens Where You Live

I am from a neighborhood in Columbus that is close to the one where Ty're King was killed. It is a part of Columbus that doesn’t get talked about when some national magazine names Columbus one of America’s “hot new cities” and shows off its glistening skyline reflecting on the Scioto River. It is an area I champion relentlessly, even from miles away. I have run those streets as a boy who was once Ty're’s age, and I think of the people who live on them.

Community searches for answers in the death of Jaron Thomas

On Jan. 14 [2017], Thomas, 36, called for an ambulance from a North Linden residence after 11 p.m. According to the 911 call obtained byAlive, Thomas told the dispatcher he had used cocaine and was hearing voices. He also complained his heart was pounding and that he needed an ambulance.

“It feels like I’m going to die or something,” he told the dispatcher.

Three Columbus Police officers arrived at the scene and restrained Thomas, who was “rolling around and sporadically contorting his body” and refusing to comply with officer commands, according to the police report.

Black Pride 4 inspire community to examine Pride, protest and police response

During the demonstration, the protesters linked arms and stepped into the street. Video footage then shows Columbus Police officers using mace on protesters, pushing them back with their bikes and tackling them to the ground. Four black protesters — Wriply Bennet, Kendall Denton, Ashley Braxton and Deandre Miles — were arrested. In the aftermath, Lori Gum resigned from her post as Stonewall Pride and program coordinator, citing the organization’s failure to issue a meaningful statement in the week following the incident. “I can no longer be part of Stonewall Columbus’s indifference to the pain of our community,” she wrote in a Facebook post.

As the community awaits the fate of the group, which has become known as the #BlackPride4, and in particular Miles, who was charged with felony aggravated robbery for allegedly attempting to disarm an officer, it is grappling with the meaning of Pride, and the proper methods for protest and police response.

Who was Donna Dalton?

Around 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, Aug. 23, [2018], undercover CPD Vice Officer Andrew Mitchell shot Donna three times inside his unmarked sedan parked against the side of a brick apartment building near the intersection of Bellows and South Yale avenues in Franklinton. Mitchell’s bullets hit Dalton in the leg, abdomen and chest; the chest shot pierced her heart, killing her. Police said Donna stabbed Mitchell with a knife, severely injuring his hand. An autopsy later revealed cocaine and fentanyl in her system.

Donna Dalton’s life sits at the intersection of opiates and human trafficking — two scourges that often work in tandem to tear Ohio families apart. But her death is also impossible to separate from the Columbus Police Vice Unit, which Chief Kim Jacobs has “temporarily paused” while a task force consisting of the FBI, the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the Ohio Auditor look into the unit after it made headlines in recent months, most notably with the high-profile arrest of President Donald Trump-adjacent adult film star Stormy Daniels at local strip club Sirens in July.

On the day of Donna’s death, Mitchell was already under investigation by Internal Affairs due to a “criminal allegation” lodged against him on Aug. 8. (No further information was available regarding the allegation; CPD also would not make Mitchell or any officer involved in Donna’s July 25 arrest or Aug. 23 death available for interviews, citing ongoing investigations.)

The case of Masonique Saunders

In the early evening on Friday, Dec. 7, [2018], Jamita Malone received a phone call informing her that her son, Julius Tate, Jr., 16, had been shot by police and transported to OhioHealth Grant Medical Center.

“I went out [to the hospital] and the news media was there and I couldn’t find my boy,” said Malone, who was informed of events after they unfolded by Danielle Williams, the mother of Tate’s girlfriend, Masonique Saunders. “No one [from the hospital] came out and told me that my son was lying on a table, gone. ... My son’s birthday would be next month. He’d be 17 years old. But he’s sitting on my mantelpiece downstairs and I can’t even touch him. I can’t say, ‘I love you.’ I can’t even hug him. My son can’t even tell me what the hell they’ve done to him.”


Six days after Tate was killed, officers with the Southern Ohio Fugitive Apprehension Strike Team arrested Saunders, who police allege was Tate’s accomplice, charging the then-16-year-old with aggravated robbery. Saunders was also charged with murder for her role in the events that led to Tate’s death, with the office of Franklin County Prosecuting Attorney Ron O’Brien invoking the felony murder rule, which provides that “no person shall proximately cause the death of another person as the result of committing a first or second degree felony,” according to an emailed statement provided by O’Brien’s public information officer, Christy McCreary.

Bull Connor at the Gallery Hop

Watching a video of the protest on behalf of Masonique Saunders that took place in the Short North during May’s Gallery Hop, I was struck by something I hadn’t seen in any other video observing police actions. Halfway through the video, two firemen unrolled a white sheet and held it between them in an attempt to block the view of people who were recording how police were handling the protesters who had chained themselves to an art car. While this is happening, an officer was next to the person shooting the video and, ever so politely, trying to explain why such a measure (not to mention pepper spraying others) was not only acceptable, but for their protection.

I have seen all manner of videos portraying police action: abuse, planting of evidence, actionable murder. None of those instances instilled in me what the sheet-raising in this video did: terror. In taking such an obvious measure to hide the actions of officers, I was forbidden from witnessing what a police force known for abuse was doing to a citizen.

Would MLK protest his own breakfast?

Where were the people who got up and left? Where were the people who followed the police out, cellphones in hand, tracking how a cadre of officers handled two protesters? We know how things go when we don’t keep the records of how we’re treated, so where was that easy bit of pick-up activism? Where was the outcry next to the selfies posted on social media? These are the absolute least efforts anyone could have done in the name of preserving justice on a day marked to honor a man who gave his life preserving justice. No one’s asking you to get arrested, but could you have not sat in the room and listened to more speeches about how far we’ve come while two protesters waited just outside the door? Did you think they wouldn’t let you reenter? Did you think Mia Santiago and Dkéama Alexis would be fine so long as they didn’t resist? Did you think the police wouldn’t dare do too much damage to them since the city’s elite witnessed their actions? Did that make staying put seem like a good idea at the time?