Staring down the nozzles of pepper spray, hundreds of protesters — Ohio State students included — chanted, “I can’t breathe” at Columbus Police Thursday night while gathering downtown following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody that caused nationwide outrage.
More than 200 protesters gathered in downtown Columbus, Ohio, at the intersection of Broad and High streets after meeting outside the Columbus Police Office of Internal Affairs at 7 p.m. The protesters marched to the intersection, where they protested the death of Floyd, who died Monday after being arrested by police for allegedly trying to use a counterfeit bill.
A viral video circulated of the arrest, which showed a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, with his knee on Floyd’s neck pinning him to the ground for several minutes. The video captured Floyd pleading with Chauvin saying, “I can’t breathe,” and he later died at the hospital.
“Just saying the words ‘I can’t breathe’ you feel emotion to them,” Emara Ndumele, a second-year medical student, said. “You look at your brothers and sisters, you think of all the people that have died in this weird place and you think to yourself, ‘When’s this gonna stop?’”
The protest in Columbus is one of many that have been organized nationwide following Floyd’s death, including Minneapolis, Indianapolis, Denver and Memphis, Texas, demanding Chauvin and the three responding officers involved — who have all been fired — be charged for Floyd’s death.
Roaya Higazi, president of the Undergraduate Student Government and a fourth-year in city and regional planning, said that being at the protest was empowering.
“The past few days have been really emotional. So to be around people who are expressing that anger in the same way is very liberating,” Higazi said.
Columbus Police blocked Broad and High streets near the Ohio Statehouse, while protesters chanted, “Black lives matter.”
Higazi said it’s important that Ohio State students learn outside of the classroom and stand in solidarity with black students.
“We talk a lot about inclusivity and we talk about supporting diverse students at Ohio State and this is an example of how you show up for black students at Ohio State and I think that people have to learn more than just writing a plan or writing a paper or creating a program,” Higazi said.
Some in the crowd also threw water bottles toward the police line. At one point, a Lime scooter was also thrown at police, which led to officers using pepper spray.
Police also used pepper spray around 9:50 p.m. after a protester got into an altercation with an officer.
Police formed a blockade with their bicycles in front of protesters at the intersection. Most did not engage with protesters, nor did they answer protesters’ questions.
Protesters offered warnings to others. “If you have contacts, take them out,” one person yelled.
“Move back” echoed off the buildings as police officers put on gas masks and took out bottles of pepper spray.
Other protesters questioned and chanted at police officers who formed the blockade.
“Do you support it?” one protester asked. “Why are you standing there?”
“I’m still here!” one man shouted repeatedly. “I’m still here!”
And there they remained as the night went on, and as their numbers grew, broken glass began to line the sidewalks of downtown Columbus.
Columbus Police deployed officers on horseback, and around 2:00 a.m. some protestors attempted to storm the Statehouse and broke windows with their bodies or assorted objects, while others destroyed storefronts and upended trash cans.
Damaged storefronts include Poke Bros at 100 E. Gay St., Latitude 41 at 50 N. Third St. and the Ohio Theatre at 39 E. State St.
Protesters also damaged bus stops and vehicles.
Sam Raudins, Owen Milnes, Jasmine Hilton and Jack Long contributed reporting.
This story was updated at 9:52 a.m. to include information about the Statehouse and storefronts.
Correction: A previous version of this story stated the protests began outside the Equitas Health King-Lincoln Medical Center. The protests started outside the Columbus Police Office of Internal Affairs, which shares a building with the medical center.