U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-OH-3) represents the congressional district that includes Ohio State’s Columbus campus. Credit: Courtesy of TNS

U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty sees protesting as a way to incite legislative change — even though she was pepper-sprayed while doing so in May.

Beatty (D-OH-3), who represents the congressional district that includes Ohio State’s Columbus campus, joined Darrick Hamilton, executive director of Ohio State’s Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, in a webinar Tuesday to discuss translating recent protests into lasting policy. She said protesting is especially useful now as legislators struggle to make a bipartisan decision on police reform.

“That’s why I like to protest, and that’s why I like the people out there advocating and fighting for change,” Beatty said.

Beatty said that recent events, including the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, have created a “perfect storm” for change. As a result, she expects the push for police reform will give way to additional legislation addressing inequality in the United States, including racial health disparities made evident by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The killing of Floyd is bringing people together across the world, as protesters adopt the phrase, “No justice, no peace” from France to Brazil, Beatty said. Locally, protests in Columbus started in late May and spanned from downtown to Upper Arlington, touching Ohio State’s campus several times. Members of the university community hosted their own acts of solidarity, including student athletes kneeling outside Ohio Stadium June 2, health care workers at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center kneeling outside the center June 5 and a student-organized march through campus June 6.

“People have finally come together, and this is the time for us to capitalize on,” she said.

Beatty said that she supports the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020, which would make it easier to bring criminal and civil charges against police misconduct, limit the sale of military-grade equipment to police departments, ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants, and require the use of body and dashboard cameras. The bill passed the House of Representatives June 25. 

Beatty also introduced House Resolution 990 to recognize racism as a national public health crisis. Franklin County Commissioners declared racism a public health crisis May 19 and Columbus City Council declared racism a public health crisis June 1.

Hamilton said that although Congress holds the responsibility for enacting federal laws, social movements, including protests, can also spark change.

“This current social movement is pushing our Congress right now, so that needs not be understated,” Hamilton said.

Beatty said past legislation resulting in historic advancements toward equality were sparked by acts of protest against racism by Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr., and community engagement that can still be used today — like education, protests, letter writing and voting.

“How do we ensure lasting change?” Beatty asked. “This is not new to us. We are going from agony to action.”

Owen Milnes contributed reporting.