Letter to the editor:
Even with several minutes left of the first-ever College Football National Playoff Championship game, it was becoming evident that my school, the Ohio State University, would claim victory over the University of Oregon Ducks. The elation on campus spread like wildfire as the streets came alive with students and fans roaring and cheering with pride for their university and the state of Ohio. Thousands of revelers gathered on North High Street to celebrate this historic win. Unfortunately, the joy that we believed “death alone could still,” quickly turned into chaos and pain.
Students filled the street, blocking traffic. Crowds were energetic, but not violent. The bars along the street were overflowing, but everyone managed to celebrate without stampedes or mosh pits.
The police arrived quickly, and attempted to clear the way. Following them was a heavily armored vehicle with SWAT-team members in camouflage gear. Armed with batons, the police force actively shoved students out of the street. Loudspeakers announced that the entire area was off limits. Anyone on High Street next to the Ohio Union was subject to pepper spray. One student, proudly waving the flag of Ohio in the street, was sprayed directly in the eyes from close range.
Then, the police officers’ indiscriminate pepper spray spree extended to those standing on the side of the street, out of traffic’s way. In the video The Columbus Dispatch released on Jan. 13, one individual is sprayed directly in the face while he is clearly on the sidewalk recording the situation unfolding.
The use of pepper spray continued recklessly. With protective riot gear and gas masks, the police sprayed at will. Few students were spared the burn of the pepper spray.
Shortly after, the officers fired a canister of tear gas into the street, causing students to realize the severity of the situation. Masses of students flocked away from High Street. Less than a minute after the first, two more were released and landed near me as I was recovering from inhaling the initial gas cloud, a substantial distance from the street or sidewalk.
The tear gas suppressed the High Street celebrations quickly, and students stumbled back to their homes and dorms with irritated eyes and persistent coughs.
The Columbus Division of Police appeared very ill-prepared for the situation after the Buckeyes’ victory. It relied on sheer numbers of officers, mounted units, armored vehicles and tear gas to maintain the peace. The police had sufficient time to plan for the events they knew were to follow (look at other college campuses after a national championship win).
I agree that the 89 fires lit in the off-campus housing area were dangerous and unwarranted. The Columbus police and fire divisions faced a tough task of controlling irresponsible students who mocked local fire ordinances by lighting furniture or other items. At the intersection of High Street and 13th Avenue, however, the innocent students were nonviolent and simply looking to celebrate with fellow Buckeyes. At least 1,000 of the students there came from the alcohol-free, university-sponsored viewing of the game in the Union.
Why did the Columbus police decide to be reactive and use truly painful ways of crowd control? Why not shut down several blocks of High Street to allow safer post-win celebrations? Why not be proactive about the situation so it would not come down to harming students who were not breaking the law?
I will not defend those who participated in vandalism or violent acts. I aim to defend those who congregated to celebrate with their peers. The idea that the only way to avoid being deliberately mistreated by police is to refrain from mass gatherings is flawed. This use of force was exercised not just on lawbreakers, but also on innocent bystanders who were watching the events unfold and not impeding emergency vehicles. Tear gas was used beyond the immediate High Street area, as can be seen in the same Dispatch video released Jan. 13.
Tear gas is not just a temporary inconvenience, it is intentionally painful. The distribution of tear gas on innocent citizens should be reserved for the most serious situations, but appeared to be Plan A for the Columbus police.
No individual police officer is to blame for this incident. It is a culture of reactive policing that refused to use proactive measures to protect its citizens and relied on force to maintain peace.
Second-year in economics