Scott Woods: We Need to Step Up Our Boycott Game

In the wake of Donovan Lewis’ killing, Columbus must financially hold accountable those who fall on the wrong side of police reform.

Scott Woods
Columbus Monthly
Rebecca Duran, the mother of Donovan Lewis, hugs community activist Ramon Obey II during a demonstration in Lewis' name outside the Ohio Statehouse on Sept. 4, 2022. Lewis, a 20-year-old Black man, was shot and killed in his bed by a Columbus police officer while police were serving an arrest warrant on Aug. 30.

I am a lifelong Stephen King reader. I have been reading his books since I stole a paperback of “Firestarter” from my older brother’s stash when I was 10. A couple of generations later and I still read King books as they come out. He still averages two a year, and I don’t get them read the week-of like I used to, but I get to them all eventually. Part of my commitment is recreational—I enjoy King’s ideas and the way he conveys most of them—but it’s also academic. I occasionally deliver a lecture about King and his canon of Black characters, so I have to stay on top of what he’s writing. 

I end my lecture by stating that I had to come to a decision about his books in light of the fact that, after several decades, he consistently treats his Black characters poorly. I no longer buy his books when the money would go to him directly. I buy them used, usually after I have read a library copy. It isn’t a break-up so much as a separation. I recognize and appreciate the good times, but I can’t actively support a relationship fraught with such disrespect.

While we’re on the subject of break-ups, during the pandemic, I gave up a restaurant I loved. It was a place I had published glowing reviews of, declaring it a next-level culinary experience. Alas, the owner displayed some upside-down and unsympathetic logic that was generally being fueled by classist and racist ideas. I could not in good faith keep supporting his business if the person who ran the ship did not subscribe to public health and facts at a time when people were dying left and right around us. While not the same level of decision as my boycott on buying King books, it was an easy decision with a hard side effect. I’m a gourmand. I miss that restaurant, but I hold the line. 

As Columbus enters the ring to do another round with a high profile police killing, I find myself battling over responses. Columbus police officer Ricky Anderson shot and killed Donovan Lewis within one second of opening a bedroom door while serving a warrant. In turn, Columbus’ activist community has once again stepped up on various fronts to protest. We’re unfortunately very good at it at this point. 

As always in these moments, it’s important to be aware of which protest tools work and which ones don’t, with the knowledge that A) there is no single way to change, and B) we have been here before. We have seen the dayslong version of this engagement, the one with smoke grenades, batons and citywide curfews. We have seen the version where we make national headlines again for all the wrong reasons. And we have seen the slow or total lack of change or justice. 

Someone is going to blow it in this moment. Some organization or business is going to say or do the wrong thing, or do nothing, which is also the wrong thing. The mayor has already proven evergreen in this respect. And when they do, there is going to be talk about boycotting them. And there should be. The stakes here are higher than another dollar in Stephen King’s pocket or a dinner platter. If you come down on the wrong side of police reform, it should cost you more than an angry post on social media. 

There are things this city loves more than justice. We know this is true because it hasn’t attempted to acquire justice in any earnest way. It’s a popular debate that invokes things like values and history and political will, but ultimately boils down to money. People change for money, and they behave differently around access to it, which is why we should be looking for stronger ways to apply boycotting to affect change. Boycotting hurts, but it’s also a two-way street, and when it works, it really works. It’s not enough by itself, but it’s also underutilized here.

Scott Woods

Despite the public sport we’ve collectively made of performatively judging the degree of other people’s equally performative level of conviction about everything, boycotts are generally where the rubber meets the road. You either support a bad actor, or you do not. It feels like there aren’t many negotiable middle grounds these days like the library card/nicotine patch I use for my Stephen King fix. Where Columbus police are concerned, there isn’t much of any to be had. They have no incentive to change, and they’re protected by every level of civic power that exists. There isn’t anything to boycott directly where they’re concerned. But something or someone around them does care. And once we figure out what that is, I’d venture to say we’ll see something change. All paths toward change should be applied, performative or otherwise. But something has to give here. And we should be talking about who and what has to pay for the problem…literally. 

Scott Woods is a poet, cultural critic, essayist and founder of the arts nonprofit Streetlight Guild.