In My Ohio

​On the Next Riot Town

Darren C. Demaree
​In one of my classes on Monday night I had several students refer to Columbus as Killumbus. Someone had brought up the riots in Baltimore, and we spent the last part of class discussing the current relationship between Columbus’ black youth and the police. The women acknowledged that Columbus was not the best city for that dynamic, and that they didn’t really trust the police to have their best interests in mind. The men seemed angry from the jump. Some of them had been arrested, but even the ones that conceded that they had been breaking the law appeared upset with their treatment once in custody. There were very few details that came with these claims, but they were incredibly against the police in general.
I asked them several times if maybe the last eighteen months (Ferguson, Cleveland, New York, Baltimore) had built up a quick reaction inside of them; that these feelings were really building up from other incidents, from what they all saw on television; that since they hadn’t been given the opportunity to voice their opposition to the treatment of these famous victims was causing them to overreact to the Columbus Police. Nope. I think that they undoubtedly influenced them in some way, but their reaction to the question of the Columbus police was visceral. They alluded to what they would do if their brother or cousin or friend were killed in custody, and it was exactly the same energy that is still being confronted in Baltimore. They are angry, and they are waiting for a release of that anger.
So, on Wednesday, after we dispatched of the quiz they needed to take, we spent the rest of the class on protest writing. We watched videos of Claudia Rankine reading from her tremendous book, “Citizen”, and we spent a lot of time writing our own protests. They demonized the police again as well as social services, the humane society, and the current student loan institution. We talked through different scenarios and ways to protest nonviolently. I’m their writing teacher, and I believed whole-heartedly that once they said some of those things out loud, they might feel better. I think a few of them did, but not as many as I had hoped.
Overall, here’s what I learned from my students this week. They are young, nationally aware of all of these racial events, and they have been weary, if not afraid, of the police for most of their lives. They know and respect what Martin Luther King Jr. did and said, but they won’t hear his words once the adrenaline hits a peak level. They like the idea of their thoughts and feelings being heard out loud or read, but what they really want to do is punch somebody in the face. I reminded them that I had lost a promising student last year to gun violence, that it had been senseless, and that his death’s impetus originated in an inane argument about a girl. They listened to me, they saw my grief and anger over his passing, but that only tempered things for a while.
I don’t expect any riots in Columbus; however, I do expect my students and I to keep having these conversations. If it’s not Dr. King or Claudia Rankine or even my words they remember, my ultimate hope is that it’s their own words they would hear in a heightened state. We just need them to find those right words before something happens. I don’t know which town is the next riot town, it might be mine, it might be yours, but there are more riots coming. Let’s keep talking. Let’s keep writing. We will find the right words, eventually.