Home » Opinion » Letters to Editor » Letter to the editor: Tear gas a reactive, not proactive, measure by police

Letter to the editor: Tear gas a reactive, not proactive, measure by police

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A Columbus Police officer attempts to control a fan on North High Street in the early morning of Jan. 13. Credit: Yann Schreiber / Lantern reporter

A Columbus Police officer attempts to control a fan on North High Street in the early morning of Jan. 13.
Credit: Yann Schreiber / Lantern reporter

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.

John Collier

Second-year in economics

collier.238@osu.edu

7 comments

  1. I politely disagree with you. Tear gas is definitely more than a minor annoyance. I see you there. What I’d like to add, however, is that the police were not trying to rain on our celebration. They were doing what we would expect them to do if we looked out of our bedroom windows and saw massive crowds threatening to cause property damage to our homes – they were protecting the students and the property at OSU. It doesn’t matter what the initial intention of a large number of people is – it just takes a few to start smashing windows and ripping down goalposts and soon you’ve got a city-wide riot that no one can stop. No one’s going to listen to someone yelling stop if they’re in a huge group like Tuesday night’s. We needed that extra push to move along, to go back home. I hope you see my point here.

  2. “The tear gas suppressed the High Street celebrations quickly, and students stumbled back to their homes and dorms with irritated eyes and persistent coughs.” Students should be happy with this. The police did act pro-actively, keeping a bad situation from turning into a terrible situation. Did you want them to wait until the cars started getting turned over? the fights started breaking out? property started being destroyed? Arrests, injuries and destruction were kept to a minimum, the police did there job, and did it well.

  3. The police should need a reasonable expectation that a crowd is about to turn violent before the police start using batons and gas.

  4. Last I checked your not defending students if they are physically being harmed, why not start with arrest threats or some minor issue like putting flares in the middle of the road to stop people from going there. Simply pepper spraying or use of tear gas is for riots, this was indeed not a riot but of a celebration that the entire STATE would take part in if they could. Unfortunately the police were not prepared and used violence to solve a celebration.

  5. Then obviously you weren’t there, Jared. I was watching the crowd on mirror lake get bigger and bigger, and the authorities (not just police, mind you – fire department too) beg people to leave. they didn’t bust out the spray until people were getting too rowdy to listen. If you’re so against the police, call your mom if your house is ever broken into or if you need any other sort of immediate help.

  6. I wonder what kind of article the Lantern would have put out if someone had been injured or a house caught on fire and the CPD didn’t clear High St. to get the Fire dept. through. Tear down a goal post, jump on the frozen lake, do what you want on campus, but once it spills into the actual city the police have a duty. Surprising to many students,turns out they do not own the city of Columbus, other people call it home too. If you really want to go all out and climb on fire trucks and march down High St. understand that those activities will get you pepper sprayed, stop trying to justify it and calling the police fascists.

  7. “call your mom if your house is ever broken into”

    What an outrageous quote from a defender of the Columbus PD!

    Remember when some OSU students caught some local kids breaking into their house a few months ago. They, the students, hunted them down and captured them — thus marking the first solved home invasion or burglary case in recent Columbus history. And the Columbus prosecutor dropped charges against the perps!!

    Calling your mom won’t help any more than the CPD will, but at least she won’t undermine your efforts.

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