Portrait of the Columbus Ohio Police Department, 2020

Portrait of the Columbus Ohio Police Department, 2020,” acrylic on canvas, 36 x 48.

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#BlackLivesMatterAt the end of my statement there are Columbus area black artists to follow, and a long list of video links to the Columbus Police using violence on Peaceful Protesters. #WeBearWitness

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Normally I do joyful paintings about queer heroes and monsters, about large hairy men in love, or portraits of friends and family, but last Friday, protests for racial justice began in Columbus, Ohio during a worldwide pandemic. The combination of these two things prevented me from participating in the protest, as I’m immuno-compromised. And so, like for the last two and a half months, I was sheltering in place but watching the videos of my friends and fellow Columbus-residents as their peaceful protests were met with violent, overreactive police retribution. They were sprayed, gassed, shot at, beaten, arrested during a peaceful protest meant to highlight the problem with police brutality. Well, nothing highlights police brutality like more police brutality.

For one protester who made a video, there was a moment all the violence started: when a police officer socked a protester. When the protesters objected to being assaulted by shouting, they were all sprayed with pepper spray. (Bryan Battle Jr video is also linked below)

Video after video surface from the #columbusprotest showing the Columbus Police using excessive force and assaulting citizens of Columbus (whose taxes pay for police and whose right it is to protest injustice–and whose taxes pay out the settlements in law suits made against the police.)

Infuriated by the videos and my inability to be there to support the movement, I did what I could. I took a screenshot of the video and created this painting.  


To the city of Columbus and the Columbus Police Department, this is the image we will remember of the police: of a violent and lawless gang of officers, answerable to no one, under no one’s control. Who do they protect and serve? People remember these images. (This image is comparatively mild to the other videos you will see below.)

Columbus Police, you had a chance to march with us for change, to say that yes, too much excessive force and racial prejudice exists in the police, too much white supremacy has always been a part of the police, and this must change. You had a chance to walk with us, and protect us from within, protect the city from within the group, but instead, in Columbus streets, you chose to escalate violence, get electrified by your own power in weapons and armor, and protect and shield each other as you beat and gassed and sprayed citizens which included our congresswoman, our city council president, and a 3 year old, not to mention hundreds of citizens. Some of them have died from your methods. Some have broken legs and missing eyes and scars that are physical reminders forever of what Columbus did to them. Many more will never trust you again. Read that, City of Columbus, they will never trust the police again because your violence is the lingering Afterimage.

I am deeply aware of my own white privilege to have not feared the violence of the police before now. Most black people have been saying for a hundred + years that we should never trust the police.  They have suffered in this country and they are looking for equality and racial justice and white people need to speak out in solidarity with them, and listen to them.  The difference between how the police met the shelter-in-place protesters (nearly ALL white) and how they met the Racial Justice protesters (a diverse mix, asking for justice specifically for black citizens) is stark. 

Where were the arrests or violence when white people came with GUNS into a capitol building in Michigan?  Or when they crowded the streets in Columbus demanding and screaming to have a haircut and some coffee and a movie?  There were no arrests, no killings, no beatings, no gassings, no macings.  But our peaceful protests in the same city against police brutality are met with police brutality

Columbus Police Department, you now embody your choice of violence in the face of peaceful protesting. Many of us will work hard to #defundthepolice and #abolishthepolice. You will not be able to photo-op your way out of these images –to replace violence with kneeling and hugs. You will try. But these Afterimages will follow you like angry spirits condemning you.

Officers who assaulted citizens should be arrested and do time and live with prisoners you have assaulted before. The police should be held accountable, but they aren’t yet. Let this image and all the videos of all the police violence from this week and from all the months and years previously, for all the names, follow and stain the organization, the Police Union, the Columbus Police Department, and all police departments–even the “good ones” for not speaking out stronger. For not holding your fellow police officers accountable. So many times, you have been able to re-cast yourselves as helpful and good, after shootings, after killings. You find a way to manipulate the image by playing basketball with kids, kneeling, shaking hands–though NO POLICIES have changed.

We can’t forget the violence and the death officers have caused. An article in the Pacific Standard profiles the inherent racism in the Columbus Police Department (Henry Green, the Columbus Police, and the Jumpout Boys: How Racism Becomes Institutionalized in Police Departments)

From 2013 to 2017, members from the department fatally shot 28 people, according to Mapping Police Violence. Twenty-one of them were black like Bub.

Every time a Columbus police officer kills a citizen, two sides to the story exist. But aggressive behavior by officers often goes unchecked by the department—which is backed by a powerful police union—and decades of non-indictments from the prosecutor’s office for those who kill shows how, in Ohio’s capitol, the victim’s families are often silenced and officers’ perspective becomes the main narrative.

The CPD has operated this way for decades—a narrative not dissimilar to other police departments across the country. But how does that sort of aggression, that deep-seated racism, become institutionalized into an organization? A closer examination of CPD history details a pattern and practice of brutal racist behavior that has gone long unrectified by department superiors, cowardly city leadership, and the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Alli Maloney, Pacific Standard Magazine https://psmag.com/social-justice/racism-institutionalized-cpd

In Columbus, violent arrests and deaths have destroyed: #HenryGreen #TyreKing  #TasjonTyreekOsbourne  #Sarah Grossman  #Julius Tate  #Masonique Saunders  #TarikaWilson –and others, not to mention the violent arrests, the false arrests, the profiling, the harassment of black communities.

–and in other cities and states across America, the police culture has taken the lives of #TamirRice  #MichaelBrown  #EricGarner  #PhilandoCastile  #BreonnaTaylor #SeanMonterrosa  #GeorgeFloyd  #JamelFloyd  #JohnCrawford  #SandraBland and many, many more.

The racial injustice and white supremacy inherent in the police force must be rooted out and destroyed.

As a white queer cis man who, like every white person before me, was raised with racist beliefs that were in place in American society before I got here, I am obligated to do everything in my power to make sure they are gone when I leave, or that they are on the way out. This time it is me making art that holds Columbus and CPD accountable. Every officer who put his body between protesters and a fellow officer while he was beating a person is just as guilty as the officer beating someone. You allowed it to happen, watched over to make sure it was continued. You are part of the problem.
 
So here’s your portrait, Columbus Ohio Police Department.

You chose the expression. I just painted what you gave me.

#ColumbusMakesArt –you’re damn right we do.

There are amazing black artists here in Columbus that I encourage you to follow on Instagram.

@blackwellmarcus— Marcus Blackwell
@shima.craver—Th’Shima Craver
@Strangethingsmoss— Bryan Moss
@ajsunami — April Sunami
@artwithduarte — Duarte Brown

@LisaMclymont— Lisa McLymont

@Pheoriswest—Pheoris West
Kayla Evans—an Emerging Artist in the Columbus Arts Festival  https://www.columbusartsfestivalinplace.org/Portfolio/Kayla-Evans

and Aminah Robinson —-  no longer with us, but who left us art.

Donate below, if you are able, to the Columbus Freedom Fund for bail for those arrested, and/or to Campaign Zero (to dismantle and rethink police systems)

https://www.paypal.me/columbusfreedomfund

What the fund has already done (notice the discrepancies on the amount of bail required for black protesters)

https://www.joincampaignzero.org/#vision

Also of interest—amount  of City of Columbus budget allocated to the Police

LINKS TO POLICE VIOLENCE AND ESCALATION on COLUMBUS PROTESTERS

This is not a comprehensive set of links, but it’s a start.  Some might be taken down by Youtube or Twitter or by the owners of the video at any time.  So I can’t vouch for the links past this week. But here is a record of SOME of the violence just done in the last two weeks by Columbus Police.  I know, there is video of the Police shaking hands and marching with protesters now—but as we have seen, they may kneel and shake and chat in the day, but shoot and gas and pepper spray and chase and beat protesters at other times.  Until we see apologies for the beatings, pepper spraying, gassing, violent escalation—until we see change in policies toward black citizens of Columbus especially—the handshakes and kneelings are what others have called “Copaganda”.  Nothing has fundamentally changed, but they are acting nice for the cameras. Some have even suggested that the police have created “groups” to negotiate with, groups created days before, that have no contact with long time activists of this region, that can “speak for the protesters” and hammer out agreements with the police. I do not put this past our police to create a fake group to “negotiate with in public.”

We need to #DEFUNDTHE POLICE and #ABOLISHTHEPOLICE  and #DEMILITARIZETHEPOLICE  and hold Columbus Police accountable for the violence they have already done—and for the deaths they have caused.  And for the deaths of countless other black citizens who were killed for nothing. 

No Photo-ops will take away the Afterimages of these videos, and the killings of unarmed black men and women across the country. 

Link to the video the painting was inspired by:
https://twitter.com/BryanBattleJr/status/1266271586287411201?s=09

For Links to other videos of the violence in Columbus Ohio during the protests—violence from the police—here are the videos, links, etc. 

Columbus Police jumping out of cars to tackle protesters in Short North (below the Portland Protest video)

From the Lantern—journalists pepper sprayed by cops

Columbus Cops destroying water stations for protesters

Columbus Police pepper spraying a medic

Same moment from a different angle

Columbus  police covering badges and cams

Columbus Police pepper spraying people and ripping off protester’s masks

Columbus Police pepper spraying peaceful protesters

Columbus Police pepper spraying the Columbus City Council President, Shannon Hardin

Columbus Police teargassing peaceful protesters

Columbus Police pepper spraying Congresswoman Joyce Beatty

Columbus Counter Snipers on rooftops

—as Police said they would be in this article (asking for use of deadly force against protesters):

https://columbusfreepress.com/article/columbus-swat-commander-lobbies-use-deadly-force-against-demonstrators?fbclid=IwAR2q-P8wGoVrtaDuzR-jB-hNQfWCjYAWwj6tVSaCRNk2kwQzat4VmtPQB9A

Columbus Police telling protesters to get on sidewalk, and when they do, they ride horses on the sidewalk and then begin spraying them

Columbus Police pepper spraying a woman walking away from them

Columbus Police shoot an unarmed woman protesting on Broad street

Columbus student died after being gassed by Columbus Police

Finally, an essay “Confessions of a Former Bastard Cop” written on June 6 from of a former cop, an inside point of view about the culture of police officers—what they are doing, why they are doing it, and what it will take to change that culture. 

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I believe we can change the culture, modify how society “polices” itself, and get rid of an old and corrupt system of policing and white supremacy, but it will take years of pressure and reminding the Police Departments that we remember, and reminding City governments that we cannot trust a police department that everyone is afraid of– that harms its own citizens exercising their rights and freedoms.

But we can’t do it by burying the images. Because they want to swap an image of friendliness once we’ve stopped asking them for change. We must keeping asking them to change–and pressure the City of Columbus to make these changes. (Read the Campaign Zero for ideas, or the Confessions of a Former Bastard Cop near the end for suggestions on what to ask for.) We need to keep these images, these videos, alive until the city does something about it.

This is your portrait, Columbus.

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