'They Just Launched a War'

Protesters took to the streets last summer to protest police violence. Lawsuits making headway in Columbus and other cities are showing that the police crackdown helped prove their point.

Posted originally by Politico Magazine on May 9, 2021, at 07:00 a.m. EDT.

Tammy Fournier-Alsaada was addressing a crowd in front of Ohio’s domed Capitol building one day last spring when someone whispered in her ear: Police were arresting protesters.

Fournier-Alsaada, 59, knew a thing or two about protests. She was an organizer with the People’s Justice Project, which had been fighting police abuse in Columbus since 2015. Fournier-Alsaada also knew the police. She had sat across the table from top officers as a member of a mayor-appointed commission on public safety reform.

This was May 30, 2020, the third day of racial justice protests in Columbus following the killing of George Floyd last spring. Everything looked mostly peaceful from Fournier-Alsaada’s vantage point on the stage — there had been some violence on a previous night — but she noticed a little commotion down the block.

She dropped the mic and rushed to investigate, but found a cordon of bicycle cops blocking her way. "Shut up, bitch!" Fournier-Alsaada said one officer spat at her when she asked to be allowed to pass. She spotted a familiar face among the officers milling in the street — a deputy chief she knew from the mayoral commission. He ordered his officers to allow Fournier-Alsaada and her group to cross the street.

She thought she’d gotten the police’s cooperation, but quickly realized they’d painted a target on her back. She was halfway across the empty street when she heard a sound like a bomb going off. She looked to the sky and saw tear gas canisters arcing right toward her. She was immediately blinded and unable to breathe — all she could hear was people screaming. Mounted officers charged into the chaos, a horse knocking her to the ground as she struggled to stand.

Copyright © 2020 J. Lester Feder
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