When Malaya Davis and her colleagues in the Ohio Student Association heard that the police officer who shot and killed John Crawford III, 22, in a Beavercreek, Ohio Walmart was not going to be indicted, they jumped back into action.
The protests over Crawford's shooting have been somewhat overshadowed by the ongoing struggle in Ferguson, Missouri over the death of another young black man, Michael Brown. But the OSA has been steadily organizing protests and actions, including an 11-mile march, on September 22, from the Walmart where Crawford died to the courthouse where the grand jury was considering evidence gathered by a special prosecutor. They demanded an indictment and that the state release the videotape from the Walmart that showed Crawford's death.
Now, with the tapes released but no prosecution coming, they're launching a week of action that will kick off today and last until next Friday, coordinated to run right up to the weekend of national protests Ferguson organizers have called for October 10-13. (On Twitter, they're using the hashtag #OneWeek.)
Today's action will begin at 3:30 PM at the Beavercreek Walmart. They're also planning a mass mobilization for October 18, which will include calls for national activists to come to Ohio. “We just got right back to work, this community was counting on us to do something,” Davis says.
Darsheel Kaur, an OSA member who grew up in Beavercreek, adds that seeing the tape of the shooting was “the last straw for a lot of people.” The tape contradicts earlier reports that Crawford had brandished a toy rifle, sold at the Walmart, at customers and that people were afraid, and also shows very little time passing between the officer shouting at Crawford and firing shots.
“I went to school right around the corner, I shopped at this Walmart a lot,” Davis, who studied at Wright State University, says. “I know that I've done some things that may look suspicious to folks. John could've been me or some of my classmates. That made me feel like I had a responsibility to respond to his death.”
OSA was founded in 2012 as a collective of students focused on racial, social, economic and educational justice. Kaur was taking classes at Ohio State University at the time, and remembers organizing around the killing of Trayvon Martin on that campus. Someone, she remembers, had spraypainted “Long Live [George] Zimmerman,” Martin's killer, on the side of OSU's black cultural center. When she moved back to Beavercreek, she took her organizing connections with her.
OSA, in addition to being affiliated with the Ohio Organizing Collaborative, is part of Freedom Side, a national network of youth of color whose mission was to continue the work done during Freedom Summer 1964. They've been in constant conversation, Davis says, with organizers in Ferguson and in New York, where Eric Garner was killed by police in July. Some people from the Ferguson movement have committed to attending the actions in Beavercreek, and some Ohioans plan on making the trip to Ferguson next weekend.
Turnout for their actions, Kaur says, has consistently exceeded her expectations despite much less press coverage than Ferguson has gotten. “I told Walmart at our first event we were going to have 30 people outside of their store and we had 150.”
About 85 people joined the march from the Walmart to the courthouse on the 22nd. It included community members, OSA members, and people from all over the state who heard about the event via social media. Davis remembers, “Walking the 11 miles was rough, it was not easy at all but there was never any moment when people second-guessed why they were partaking in this pilgrimage. Spirits were very high. It was an opportunity for us to grow not only as an organization but with members of the community as well.”
Getting community support in Beavercreek, a mostly-white suburb of Dayton, has at times been complicated, Kaur says. Some residents held a rally in support of the Beavercreek police, and racial tension has spilled over from a recent struggle around the mall at which the Walmart where Crawford died is located. The mall did not have a bus stop, and many in Beavercreek seemed to want to keep it that way. As Scott Keyes at ThinkProgress noted at the time, “9 in 10 Beavercreek residents are white, but 73 percent of those who ride the Dayton RTA buses are minorities.” The city finally approved the bus stops last year after the federal government intervened and found that their rejection violated the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
“Right after John Crawford was shot, I remember right after, that night and next day, people were actually blaming the bus stop, even though John Crawford's not from Dayton, he didn't take the bus, and he's not the one who caused the commotion, the police are,” Kaur says.
She continues, “I think that the Beavercreek police need to serve and protect everyone from the greater Dayton area. People are going to be coming here to shop and to work and they deserve to be able to feel safe and protected coming here as well.”
The federal government may yet intervene in Crawford's case as well, as the civil rights division of the Justice Department has opened an investigation, but meanwhile OSA and its allies are working to change the way policing happens in Beavercreek right now. After the news broke that there would be no prosecution, Davis says, the organizers got together to consider next steps. “We were thinking it's time not only as an organization but in the Justice for John Crawford movement, it's time to really escalate the work that's being done.”
They're calling for the chief of police to meet with them, to discuss overhauling the training materials for police—reports say that Williams and the other officer on the scene, David Darkow, had just received training that prepared them to be “aggressive”--and removing Williams from the force. But their demands are about something more than one officer.
“This issue is larger than Beavercreek, Ohio, it's larger than John Crawford,” Davis points out. “We want to build up leadership within the greater Dayton area so they can continue this fight, so that we can continue working statewide on the issue, of shifting that relationship between law enforcement and community, and hopefully that can have national implications as well.”