On Monday, June 1, Hilliard joined the list of American cities in which a significant number of protesters have gathered in the days after the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis while he was in police custody.
Although acts of vandalism have accompanied protests in Columbus and other American cities – with some even turning violent – about 200 activists held a short demonstration described as "peaceful" by local authorities in the early evening at Hilliard’s Station Park, 4021 Main St.
Co-organizer Arielle Sinclair, 25, a Hilliard resident, called the demonstration an “example protest.” She said she directed the group, most carrying signs with such phrases as “White Silence Is Violence,” “Black Lives Matter” and “I Can’t Breathe,” to act responsibly.
“I can’t breathe” are the words Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, could be heard saying in a widely circulated video recording in which he was shown lying prone with Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on his neck for almost nine minutes after he had been arrested for allegedly passing a counterfeit $20 bill at a convenience store. Chauvin has been fired, arrested charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.
“We are blessed to live in a city that experiences while privilege, (and) we can be a voice for African Americans or anyone who has been mistreated,” said Sinclair, a 2012 graduate of Hilliard Bradley High School and the mother of two children, ages 4 and 2.
Sinclair said “the injustice” of Floyd’s death motivated her and her sister, Victoria Moran, 20, also a Hilliard resident, to organize the demonstration at 8 p.m.
Demonstrators lined both sides of Main Street at Center Street, as several Hilliard Division of Police officers, including Chief Robert Fisher, observed on foot inside the park, and other officers watched from cruisers parked on side streets.
Toward the end of the hour, the demonstrators lay prone with their hands behind their backs as if handcuffed and in silence – interrupted only twice by a short chant – for eight minutes and 40 seconds, the approximate amount of time the video shows that Floyd was under the knee of Chauvin.
The demonstrators included Kyra Alexander, 26, a resident of Columbus’ Short North.
Alexander said she was at the demonstration in downtown Columbus on Saturday afternoon, May 30, but left before dusk and “before it got crazy,” she said. As a citywide curfew took effect that night, flames were seen in multiple locations across Columbus, according to The Columbus Dispatch.
“I’m here (tonight) because a change is needed,” said Alexander, who graduated in the same Bradley class as Sinclair. “It feels good as a person of color to fight for what is right in a peaceful way.”
Also participating in the demonstration was Noah McKnight, 27, a Hilliard resident and a teacher at Hilliard City Schools’ Ridgewood Elementary School.
McKnight said as he was skating past the roundabout at Main Street and Cemetery Road on May 31, he thought it offered a high-visibility area to voice his opinion about Floyd’s death.
Within several hours, about 15 people had joined him, he said, and he returned June 1 and was invited by Sinclair to join the demonstration she had organized at Hilliard’s Station Park.
“We are all fighting for the same thing,” he said.
A little after 8:30 p.m., after the demonstration, Sinclair thanked those that attended but told the crowd, “It’s bedtime for my kids,” and appealed to those who chose to stay to remain peaceful.
The group of several hundred posed for a photo with police officers, and Fisher remained to speak with several demonstrators individually.
“Our mission as police is to work together with our community to ensure everyone is safe,” Fisher said.
He said the police division was aware of the planned demonstration via social media and also received calls from other people asking if the division was aware.
“We want to be a part of a peaceful demonstration, and we support that they are doing this,” Fisher said.
But some people “want to make events like this go in the wrong direction,” and it was important “that we had a presence,” he said.
Many passing motorists honked in support of the demonstrators, though a few others shouted at them.
A fraction of the crowd remained after 9 p.m. and lined the north side of Main Street at Center Street, displaying their signs to passing motorists.
As of 10 p.m., Hilliard’s Station Park was clear, said police spokeswoman Andrea Litchfield.
“This was a great example of voices being heard in an appropriate manner, and I am proud of that,” Fisher said.