Inwood Park, Cincinnati OH – Sunday, March 31st, 2020
After a handful of changes in location, the Facebook-organized rally labeled as “Be Heard, Be Safe; Rally for Justice” kicked off at Inwood Park near the University of Cincinnati. What would ensue was a seven-mile peaceful protest march through Over The Rhine, past the Hamilton County Courthouse, City Hall and the District 1 Police Station.
The event followed in the wake of George Floyd’s death by asphyxiation after a Minneapolis police officer held his knee on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and forty-five seconds. However, as speakers and performers kicked off the event, it became clear the grievances that initiated the protest were much larger in scope.
To a crowd estimated by most news outlets to be in the thousands, speakers including Mona Jenkins (Director of Development and Operations at the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition), and Cincinnati councilman Jeff Pastor spoke passionately about police treatment of black Americans and an unchecked police force. A Cincinnati Democratic Socialist organization, however, prodded deeper into the economic disparity that kept minorities in poverty. It was suggested that a lack of resources have kept economically disadvantaged black Americans oppressed in a way not dissimilar from racial profiling and law enforcement brutality. Without guaranteed healthcare, high-quality education, and high-quality affordable living, low-income families remain oppressed. Mona Jenkins argued that city-incentivized gentrification under mayor Cranley has taken a toll on the black community when money could instead be spent to improve their more beneficial public services.
George Floyd was a spark, but the kindling has been building for hundreds of years.
“We are sick of tired of having to beg for affordable housing. We are sick and tired of [Mayor Cranley] not listening to professional educators and saying that we don’t have any money to give to them when you can give to a goddamn developer who doesn’t give a shit about us. We want our money back. And ya’ll can vote, but let me tell you what moves more than that: all of us getting together collectively, organizing and demanding what we need, what we won’t accept. So cranley, when you are ready to hear the demands of the people, we will give it to you. And until then, you will continue to have us in these streets.”
Organizers and speakers made it very clear that the march was intended to be a peaceful protest. However, after 150 individuals were arrested the night before when dumpsters were set on fire and businesses were damaged, tensions were high. The risk of police using pepper spray, tear gas and rubber bullets was addressed by organizers as a possibility. Reports of sound cannons had circulated on social media earlier in the day. The route of the march was not made public due to security/safety purposes.
“I am not a native of Cincinnati but I’ve been here about six years. I’m out here because I can be. Somebody gave up their life. Somebody gave up their breath so that I could be here. And that’s why I’m here, and that’s why I’m going to continue to fight.”
“I’m the rector of the bilingual, multiracial Church of Our Savior/Iglesia De Nuestro Salvador. And it’s my people who are at risk and I have to march with them.”
-Rev. Paula Jackson
As the march began down Vine Street, protestors filed out of Mount Auburn and entered downtown Cincinnati. The masked, multi-ethnic crowd distributed cheeseburgers, granola bars and water bottles. Volunteer medics/EMTs identified with hard hats bearing a red cross tended to individuals with heatstroke and were ready to help treat those affected by a potential skirmish.
“I’m here, like it says on the sign. to check my privlege.”
“I think that the world is going to become a more compassionate place and to do so we have to be aware of each other’s experiences. That’s why I’m here”
Despite looming risks, the crowd continued to grow. Onlookers shouted words of support from top-story windows while motorists honked and cheered. Tensions rose as marchers neared their destinations.
According to protestors, a police officer drove a motorcycle into the crowd on 12th St. Events are still somewhat unclear. According to WVXU, A SWAT car and highway patrol entered the area and loud pops were reported.
As the protest continued along Central Avenue towards City Hall, the group stopped. Elderly and heath-compromised individuals were diverted. Earplugs were given out to protestors to protect against sirens that were being used as a form of intimidation.
“Trayvon Martin is what really turned me because I was seventeen when he was murdered by George Zimmerman. and growing up in not such a diverse community– I grew up in an all-white community– I didn’t actually have the outlet to be proud of being black or just be able to speak my truth. So going off to HBCU, Historical Black College, I was able to speak my truth, to learn about my history and to know that this isn’t okay. We have to do something about this. It’s not going to take just one person or two people. We need allies. We need people working the streets. Because just protesting is not going to do it. We have to vote. We have to get people in office”
The protest continued peacefully as protestors knelt in front of the Hamilton County Courthouse, City Hall and the District 1 Police Station.
Throughout the protest, a handful of chants were repeated. They included “Black lives matter”, “I can’t breathe”, “No justice, no peace”, “Who do you protect? Who you serve?” and “Hands up, don’t shoot” (in which protestors put their hands in the air and faced police officers).
One mantra stood out.
A protestor would yell “Say his/her name” followed by a victim of police brutality. The audience echoed the name. For example:
“Say his name. George Floyd”
“Say his name. Samuel Dubose.”
“Say her name. Breonna Taylor”
“All these people are here for a reason. And that reason is that we face injustice. And I think that we will always face injustice as humans on this earth so long as we are controlled by other humans”
As the protest returned up the Vine Street hill towards Inwood Park, a protest marshal with a megaphone asked the crowd how they were doing. He was met with cheers and whoops. They had walked nearly seven miles.
Upon arrival at Inwood Park, protestors took a knee. For the next nine minutes, the silence was broken only by a circling police helicopter.
Participants were informed that there would be another protest taking place between the Courthouse and City Hall. A leader claimed that the curfew, set to take place at 9 PM, was a form of censorship and that they expected to stay after. In addition, it was reiterated that this was to be a peaceful protest. Anybody looking to start trouble was to be reported to a leader and would be removed.
“It shows a lot of people care. A lot more than we think, because we feel alone in this situation a lot. So to see everyone gathered like this and for a lot of people to be white, it feels nice that everyone is taking responsibility as a collective to solving this problem.”
“Keep spreading joy, keep spreading love, keep a positive mindset. Make sure these rallies are peaceful and safe.”
According to first-person accounts, the police and SWAT teams began to gas the protestors at 8:50 PM and corralled and cornered smaller groups. At 9 PM, the time of curfew, police are said to have zip-tied the hands of 307 people including protestors, individuals experiencing homelessness, and a USPS worker on her way home from work. Detainees were searched and loaded onto Metrobuses and were eventually placed in a barbed-wire surrounded parking lot in the Justice Center. Detainees were held for 12 hours with no blankets or access to medicine. Detainees were not given food or water for 10 hours and were never allowed a phone call. One individual had a seizure. They remained handcuffed. Officers reportedly attempted to censor photographs and videos of the situation, taking phones from detainees. According to detainees, those arrested were processed by the police at a rate of one or two people an hour.
Under the Cincinnati City Charter, violating curfew is considered a Nuisance or Nuisance Activity (other nuisances include the ownership of a loud/violent dog and loud cars/stereos). The majority of individuals were arrested under the charge of misconduct during an emergency, which is a fourth-degree misdemeanor. That is comparable to a traffic violation and entails a maximum fine of $250.
Others were charged with other small-time charges such as disorderly conduct, obstructing police justice, and criminal trespassing. There were a handful of more serious charges such as arson, breaking and entering, and assault on a police officer.
Fires and broken windows make for a popular news story. “Riots and looting” make a good headline. This aspect of the movement cannot be overlooked. It has garnered the movement media attention and proven a level of frustration in a country where capital matters more than human life.
The protest I photographed was not a war zone.
The protest I photographed was a gathering of thousands of community members vying for racial equality and denouncing a racist police force. I saw individuals fighting for justice for their neighbors and their siblings. I saw individuals putting themselves in potential harm’s way to push for social change. I saw Cincinnatians unite to fight a system of cruelty.
George Floyd was a spark.
But the kindling has been building for hundreds of years.
George Floyd — Minneapolis– killed on May 25th after being accused of using a fake $20 bill.
Breonna Taylor — Louisville– shot at least eight times after police forcefully entered and began to search the wrong house.
David McAtee — Louisville– shot and killed by police during a protest last weekend.
Samuel Dubose — Cincinnati– shot at a traffic stop for a suspended license and expired license plate. The case was ruled a mistrial and officer Ray Tensing was never charged.
Timothy Thomas — Cincinnati– shot in the chest and killed while running on foot from a police officer. Thomas was unarmed. Officer acquitted.
Roger Owensby Jr. — Cincinnati– choked to death during an arrest. Died in the backseat of a police car. Officers involved were never charged.
John Crawford III — Cincinnati– Shot and killed after picking up a BB gun in the sporting section of Walmart. Officers were not charged.
Tamir Rice — Cleveland– 12-year boy killed in a public park outside a recreation center in Cleveland, Ohio. No charges were filed.
Quandavier Hicks — Cincinnati — police entered the house without a warrant or knocking and found Hicks with a shotgun. Police shot and killed Hicks. Officers were not charged.
Nathaniel Jones — Cincinnati– police were called after Jones appeared to be having a drug-induced medical emergency. Bludgeoned him to death after being hit 40 times by police batons. His death was ruled a result of drug use and obesity. Officers not charged.
Gary Roell Jr — Cincinnati– Roell was known to the Cincinnati Police department to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Naked from the waist down, he broke a window and charged at police. Police tasered him to death. No charges were brought against officers.
Doug Boucher — Cincinnati– Mentally ill man wrestled with police as they tried to handcuff him. Died after being tasered 6 times in 75 seconds and then beaten while he was facedown, immobile on concrete. Officers cleared of charges.
Tyree King — Columbus– 13-year-old boy shot and killed after he pulled a BB gun out of his waistband. Officers not charged.
Roger Ramundo — Cincinnati– A man diagnosed with bipolar disorder was holding a gun. He fired a shot away from officers, raised his gun and was then shot and killed. Officers were not charged.
James Clay — Cincinnati– Police entered Clay’s apartment at the Talbert House, a home for individuals with mental illness or struggling with addiction. He was holding a pellet gun. Police fired 16 shots and killed James Clay. Officers were not charged.
James Carney III — Cincinnati– Carney was robbing a woman. Police Tased him in the chest (against CPS guidelines) twice, causing him to die. Officers were not charged.
…and the list goes on many hundreds of names too long.
Say their names.
All photographs with discernable identities were taken either of public speakers/performers or with permission.
I am a white man, and thus have only ever seen the world through the eyes of a white man. If any BIPOC sees something in this article that they object to, please email me at [email protected] to discuss.
All photographs were taken on 35mm and medium format black and white film.