DeWine calls in Ohio National Guard to help with protests in Columbus, Cleveland while mayors invoke curfews

Protesters kneel for George Floyd on the west side of the Capitol complex in May. Source: Tyler Buchanan

After a third day of protests filled the downtown Columbus streets, Gov. Mike DeWine deployed the Ohio National Guard as mayors across Ohio declared curfews Saturday night, with some establishing them for Sunday and Monday as well.

DeWine also called in the National Guard for assistance in Cleveland.

In a press conference Saturday, DeWine said it was a small group who made the largely peaceful protests turn violent all around Ohio.

“The voices calling for justice, the voices calling for change are sadly being drowned out by a small group of violent individuals,” DeWine said.

Following DeWine, Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther announced a 10 p.m. curfew. He said violators are subject to arrest. After Ginther, the Adjutant General of the Ohio National Guard said the force would be coming in to supplement local police, not take over.

Columbus Police Chief Thomas Quinlan said, “Enough. We have worked with the protesters, we have listened to their calls for change…but the protests have transformed from lawful, peaceful protests, into criminal riots.”

The demonstrations come in response to the death of George Floyd, a black man who was killed during a stop from the Minneapolis police this week. Video depicts a white officer, who was later charged with murder in the third degree, pressure a face-down Floyd by the neck with his knee.

More broadly, they mark a boiling point of a decades-long trend of black Americans experiencing systemic racism entrenched in the criminal justice system. Protesters have chanted Floyd’s name for days now, as well as the names of other black men killed at the hands of police like Mike Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice (a 12-year-old Cleveland boy).

The state officials’ announcement came after two nights of demonstration and destruction in downtown Columbus. On Thursday and Friday night, people threw trash cans through storefront windows and rocks at police officers, clad in riot gear

On Saturday, the protests were more subdued though still tense. Protesters chanted at Columbus police officers around the statehouse. From time to time, someone in the crowd would throw a water bottle at officers, which usually prompted the deployment of chemical spray and beanbag rounds.

A faction of demonstrators marched from downtown to the Short North neighborhood through commercial and residential areas without any friction with police. That ended at a speech on the west side of the Statehouse complex.

A demonstrator addresses a crowd on the west side of the Ohio Statehouse on Saturday. Source: Tyler Buchanan

Outside the statehouse Saturday, William White, a pastor at Bethany Christian Church, said he came out because he believes in the protest but was upset with a lack of peace over the last two days.

“Our protest is supposed to get the eyes of the politicians, the ones that make the laws,” he said. “The mayors, the governors, the city council. They’re the ones that are gonna make the big changes. If we’re protesting, we’re trying to get their attention, not antagonize police officers.”

He said the demonstrations will bring justice to the cause of unwarranted police violence against black people. However, there’s a Faustian bargain in opposing violence with agitation.

“If you’re going to throw things at police … we’ll get the change, but we’ll get the change at somebody else’s price,” he said.

Some of those politicians were with demonstrators downtown early Saturday, including Ohio U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty, Columbus City Council President Shannon Hardin and Franklin County Commissioner Kevin Boyce. The three were sprayed by police at one point, and later posted a video to Twitter calling for peaceful protests.

At the corner of Broad and High streets, Sesa Eakenra had milk poured in her eyes to ease the burn from a chemical spray.

The First Amendment to the Constitution says the people have a right to gather, so I don’t know why that cop thought it was OK to spray someone in the face because they’re on the street,” she said. 

Columbus police arrested 59 people Saturday, per a Twitter post from the department.

Earlier Saturday, the mayor of Minneapolis, site of Floyd’s killing and some of the most intense demonstrations, the city’s mayor warned a large proportion of agitators were coming in from out of state to cause trouble.

Eakenra said there are peaceful protesters and there are agitators in the crowd, and there’s no sure way to tell them apart.

“Let’s say I was someone hear to start shit, and I threw a rock, who can tell the difference between me and someone who’s here because maybe a family member of theirs was killed and the murderer was not brought to justice?” she said. 

A man who only identified himself as Malcolm explained in an interview why people are taking to the streets.

Justice,” he said. “Black lives matter. White lives matter. Police officers’ lives matter. We just want justice for what’s right. Stop killing innocent people for no reason.”

At a brief event, without taking questions from reporters, Ginther elaborated on the protest.

“This curfew is not intended to stifle peaceful protest, rather to protect from those who seek to use this moment…to destroy our city,” he said.

Tyler Buchanan and Susan Tebben contributed to this report.