Columbus Division of Police officers used pepper spray on a few hundred protesters who were blocking an intersection downtown last night.
About 2,000 protesters initially gathered near the Statehouse, in another demonstration against President Donald Trump. Monday night’s protest was organized by a group called Socialist Alternative.
Grace Fleisher, a fourth-year in journalism who was there covering the event for Columbus Underground, said two officers started spraying protesters as the protest began to wind down, at around 8:45 p.m. She said the pepper spray followed several warnings over a loudspeaker.
“They were repeating the same message, something like, ‘This is an emergency situation. We have the right to deploy chemicals,’ “ Fleisher said. “And they said if the people stayed they could be arrested.”
Fleisher said she didn’t witness any violence by protesters. She said pepper spray got in her eyes after she ran around a corner onto State Street.
“It was kind of ridiculous. They did it because they wanted to clear people out,” she said. “I don’t think it was justified.”
According to witness reports, one protester approached the police line to take a photo and was struck by a police officer, who used his bike to push the protestor back. During the pepper spraying, one protester who was near the front of the crowd, making a “peace” sign with his hand, was struck by the spray directly in the face.
The Columbus Division of Police did not respond to the request for comment about the department’s use of pepper spray, but released a statement on Monday afternoon via email.
“A peaceful demonstration is viewed as a legally acceptable manner of expressing an opinion. The right to protest, when done according to law, is embedded in the spirit of the Constitution. The role of the Columbus Division of Police during a demonstration is twofold: to protect the rights of peaceful demonstrators and to protect the rights of the public,” the statement read.
The release went on to state that the demonstrators did not obtain a permit, which is not needed for demonstrations but is required to occupy public streets. No arrests were reported.
Anti-Trump protests have been occurring across the country — including in Columbus — since the president took office.
Protests took place at the John Glenn Columbus International Airport following Trump’s expansive executive order on immigration, which temporarily suspended the U.S. refugee-intake program, travel from citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries and indefinitely banned Syrian refugees.
Another protest took place on Monday at city hall, earlier in the afternoon, where protesters gathered in favor of Columbus becoming a sanctuary city. The rally was not explicitly labeled anti-Trump, but follows executive orders cracking down on undocumented immigration.
Update, 2:09 p.m.: This story was updated with a statement from the Columbus Division of Police.