COLUMBUS, Ohio — In the wake of the death of George Floyd and the protests that have followed, state representatives on both sides of the aisle have introduced bills to reform policing and hold violent protesters accountable.
Democrats and Republicans who spoke with Spectrum News 1 say they support the First Amendment right to protest and they want the process to remain peaceful. They also want police to rely on their training when dealing with the community and not use certain weapons and tactics they may not use as often.
It has been six weeks since George Floyd died when a a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee against Floyd's neck as he lay on the ground.
“What a horrible thing for anyone to see and I can’t unsee it," said Akron Democratic Representative Tavia Galonski.
While the move is not technically a chokehold, that has not stopped Galonski and fellow Ohio Democratic lawmaker Michele Lepore-Hagan (Youngstown) from trying to ban the maneuver.
“You might use other moves to try and restrain someone, I applaud that. If the officers need to do their job, then I don’t mind that, but you certainly don’t need to kill someone, and that is the problem with the chokehold," said Galonski.
All four officers alleged in George Floyd's death were fired and face charges — a much different fate than that of the Cleveland officer who shot and killed Tamir Rice in 2014. Timothy Loehmann was never charged and was only later fired for not disclosing he had been previously dismissed by another department.
“Some guys are just not cut out for it and I think what we need to do is find out the people who are not cut out to be good policeman and get them out of law enforcement,” said Democratic Representative Michael Sheehy of Oregon.
Sheehy and fellow Democratic Representative Paula Hicks-Hudson (Toledo) want to create a database for officers who have been fired for cause or are under investigation.
When asked if it was his belief that if this bill was in place when Tamir Rice was killed that Tamir Rice would still be alive, Sheehy responded, "There is no doubt.”
Floyd's death has sparked protests all over the country, including here in Ohio. Some have remained peaceful. Others have not. Police departments have responded with military-grade gear and weapons.
“When you see that sight (police in riot gear), you see police who are looking at the public who they are supposed to serve as enemies and it becomes that us versus them mentality,” said Democratic Representative Erica Crawley of Columbus.
A 2017 study from Sage Journals showed when police had access to military weapons, use of force incidents were more likely to happen. Crawley and Democratic Representative Casey Weinstein (Hudson), who are both veterans, introduced a bill to limit Ohio police departments from using those weapons.
“I want the most deescalated situation possible,” said Weinstein. “In the circumstance where something escalates to the point where true military-grade equipment is needed, then we have the National Guard.”
A couple of weeks ago, tension escalated at and around the Statehouse when protesters put red-paint handprints on the building and broke windows and other property in the area. Governor Mike DeWine was livid saying, "Defacing, damaging, and vandalizing our state capitol and its grounds are wrong, and such actions are criminal."
Columbus' City Attorney brought charges against nearly 60 people, only to see them dismissed due to what was described as a "clerical error."
Violet Township, Fairfield County Republican Jeff LaRe says, “It’s just not fair to expect the taxpayers to pick up that burden when you are hearing cost estimates of just the Statehouse alone of upwards of $150,000 in damages.”
LaRe now wants the Attorney General to have the power to investigate and prosecute vandalism if the city and county prosecutors do not press charges.
LaRe added, “The point of this bill is really just to protect state property which is the taxpayer’s property. I think it’s a fundamental element of our democracy but the vandalism in the crime, if it goes unprosecuted, it’s almost condoned. So where’s it gonna stop?”
As we diagnose the illness of police brutality and its symptom like destruction of property, lawmakers on both sides hope these bills can help get us closer to a more stable society.