BTS: The Tale of Two Rallies

Tuesday, September 9, 2014
Same location...same incident...two vastly different events.

It's been a little more than a week since I drove away from Beavercreek's Fairfield Crossing shopping center parking lot and the second of two rallies that was held at its Walmart Superstore, the site of the August 5th shooting of John Crawford III by that city's police department. I made a point of attending both events because I wanted to play the part of an objective reporter but it was extremely hard to equate two things that were almost completely opposite in their scope and purpose.

I initially heard about the Justice For John Crawford Protest and Rally through an August 22nd Dayton Daily News article. What actually attracted my attention was the mentioning of Reverend Al Sharpton, the decades-long civil rights activist and MSNBC television host and his possible attendance at this August 30th event. As an aspiring photojournalist, I was hoping to add another recognizable name to my online portfolio of work here at this blog and I knew that "da Rev" would provide a very animated and photogenic appearance. I was disappointed when I found out the day before that he would not be coming but since I had already mentally committed to covering that rally, I would be there no matter what (and that would include what turned out to be a very hot and humid day).

When I arrived around 12:45, I saw that the outer parking lot for that shopping center had already been roped off and three canopies were erected to serve as a hub for a centralized gathering area and shade from the strong late summer sun. A pallet of water was also set up about 20 feet away and was available for anyone to have (several members of the organizing group walked around with bottles to ensure people were staying hydrated). At around 12:55, a woman introduced herself to the gathering and began to "warm them up" by leading them in several songs requiring audience participation. Bishop Bobby Hilton, president of the Greater Cincinnati Chapter of the National Action Network, or GCCNAN, started the presentation promptly at 1PM with a group prayer and an overview of why they were there as well as periodic updates on the speaker line-up. GCCNAN brought a podium and a public address system to ensure that the presenters could be heard by all the attendees. Due to the non-availability of a stage or elevated area for the podium, many still and video photographers had a hard time getting unobstructed views of the speakers over or through the close-in crowd.

One dozen speakers addressed the gathering over the allotted one-hour time frame and the event formally closed at 2PM. Immediately following the rally portion, a press conference was held for all media in attendance that provided new remarks from Crawford's aunt, Sharon Sherrod-Brown, as well as recaps of the points that were made by the presenters. Once that media availability ended, I made my way through the crowd and had a one-on-one talk with Reverend Jerome McCorry, founder of The Adam Project, Inc. We met at an April 2012 rally held in downtown Dayton organized to show support for the family of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed Florida teenager who was shot by an off-duty neighborhood watch captain in late February of that year. After about a five-minute discussion, I made my way back to my car and the promise of immediate air-conditioned relief when I turned the engine over. Once I arrived at home, I processed my photos and downloaded my DVR audio to review the speaker line-up for my subsequent posting.

I became aware of the police support rally during one of the local newscasts and the date and time (Sunday, August 31st at 4PM) were confirmed when I visited the group's recently created Facebook page. I returned to that same Walmart Superstore location the following day prior to the announced start time and I was startled to see just how few people had turned out and how relatively unorganized it was when compared to Saturday's event. Two volunteers were taping up a few simple signs to the canopies--the same ones that had been used a little over 24 hours earlier. Once done, they along with about three dozen other people were being formed up into a circle by the event's POC, Michael Crain, to start the Operation Shield PBD rally just a little bit before the announced starting time.

During his comments, Crain, a police division chaplain from a nearby jurisdiction, seemed to fumble with his objectives for this gathering. There would be no speakers and all attendees were asked to conform to posted standards concerning the content displayed on their signage, clothing or other items brought with them. More people did show up as time went on (I estimated an overall total of between 150 and 200 attendees that broke down into smaller discussion groups in the parking lot) and a threatening shower materialized that sent folks scrambling for cover about half an hour into the scheduled period. It was at that time when Crain conducted another prayer to draw things to a close and to thank those who showed up for the rally. When the rain did let up, I headed over to my car to reflect on what I just saw and, unfortunately, my early departure had me miss a masked Anonymous protester and several others from the Dayton chapter of the Cop Block project that promotes police accountability.

In order to preface this next section, I need to say that I am providing an objective analysis and critique of what I witnessed and/or took away from my experiences at those two events. I mean no offense to anyone and hope that the comments would be taken constructively instead of being inflammatory in nature.

- purpose/goal of event: the Saturday rally was focused to almost laser-like precision on the subject of justice for Crawford and his family. To attain that goal, they demanded that Ohio attorney general Mike DeWine let the public see the video surveillance footage from inside that Walmart Superstore where the Crawford shooting occurred prior to the seating of the grand jury. Every speaker hammered those points home and all appeared to have had their main talking points reviewed by the event coordinators to ensure a unified message would go out to the attendees and, via the various media outlets covering the rally, to the general public. Many of the signs in the crowd appeared to echo that same message and were interspersed with others that addressed gun laws in general and Crawford's death specifically.

Sunday's rally lacked any kind of concrete theme and only aimed to be a public show of support for the city's police department and the two officers involved in the Crawford shooting. When I talked with Crain, he stated that he really had no idea about how to plan or conduct such an event but he just felt that he had to do something. Due to the racial overtones this case has touched upon, he made it well known beforehand and at the beginning of the gathering that any items that were considered inappropriate would not be allowed. Crain also wanted to impress upon the attendees (and the media who covered this rally) that this was not a "right versus wrong" issue and that there should not be an insinuations made against the shooting victim.

- "optics": due to this nation's lingering racial tensions involving African-American, rallies like the one held on Saturday have become almost a "cottage industry" for that particular segment of the overall population. Some of the organizations represented at that event have histories going back over a century and tout memberships in the hundreds of thousands. The GCCNAN, the primary sponsor for that day's gathering, is just one of 70 from across the nation (and one of four in the state of Ohio) for the National Action Network, a civil rights organization founded by Reverend Sharpton in 1991. Many of the organizations that spoke at the 2012 Trayvon Martin rally were also represented over two years later in a similar show of community support.

While African-Americans predominated the speaking roster and those members who surrounded the family, there was a very healthy demographic distribution among the attendees. Black and white, men and women, young and old were all represented and shown in the photos and videos from that event. One of the only mistakes that I felt that the organizers made was holding the event at that store location. There had already been a protest held at the Walmart Supercenter on August 9th as well as one at the Beavercreek Police Department headquarters on August 17th. As I would find out later, the store is trying to stay out of the controversy so bringing that group of people to that spot to complain about the attorney general did not provide the proper setting for such an action or demand.

Since Crawford was from the Cincinnati area, he had no home or church in vicinity of the crime scene so a location closer to his family might have been a better location. Another place that was more appropriate to their cause would've been in front of the Greene County Court House in Xenia, the location where the grand jury will convene on September 22nd to determine if criminal charges will be filed in this case. DeWine used that same location late last month to announce his appointment of Mark Piepmeier, Hamilton County's lead trial counsel and the prosecutor who indicted a Cincinnati police officer whose killing of African-American teenager Timothy Thomas led to that city's 2001 race riots, as special prosecutor for this case.

The Sunday rally, in my opinion, really didn't have to happen--or at least not at that particular location. While the notion of holding a counter-protest had been bandied about for a couple of weeks, the formal announcement of the pro-police rally was not made until August 27th, five days after the pro-Crawford rally was made public. After attending that event, I felt that it was simply an "equalizer" for the previous day's rally in a bid for a "fair and balanced" depiction of the incident and aftermath of the shooting for the media. As I mentioned above, there was no agenda or roster of speakers to talk about what the organizer hoped to accomplish so I and other reporters simply saw a bunch of people milling about and talking (and a few shared some pretty interesting comments).

Unlike Saturday's attendees, the demographics for Sunday's activity was decidedly one-sided with older white people making up the vast majority of the crowd (although, in a January "Soap Box" piece, I did show that the city's demographics are heavily skewed in that direction--88 percent white versus 2 percent African-American and almost 45 percent being aged 45 and over as cited in the 2010 US Census report). In fact, the only two African-Americans that I saw among the crowd were a reporter from the Dayton Daily News and another journalist from the Yellow Springs public radio station.

As I similarly addressed for the Crawford rally, the police gathering should not have been held at that retail location but at a location where the police would be afforded the maximum opportunity to meet and greet their supporters. In hindsight, the Beavercreek Police Department headquarters would have been a much more suitable venue for such an event.

[NOTE: I wanted to call out Walmart here because I found out that they were the ones who provided the canopies and the water for attendees of both rallies. I found a few photos on the Dayton Ohio Cop Block Facebook page showing store officials retrieving the left-over water to take back into the store. I had to go to another establishment in that shopping center the following Monday and the rope line was taken down and cars were again in the painted slots of that outer lot in a sign of returning to normalcy. Since I haven't contacted the store directly, I don't know if this was a contracted service or one that Walmart felt they needed to perform as a member of that city's business community; however, based on what I witnessed, I will opt on the side of altruism instead of capitalism. With the quick turnover of their security camera footage, it appears that they want to put this unfortunate incident behind them and go back to focusing on retail operations.]

So what is my take on the Crawford shooting? It is extremely difficult for me to believe that "shoot to kill" was the responding police officers' only option to bring that situation to a peaceful conclusion. I will preface my remaining remarks by saying that I do not have first-person experience in such affairs so I cannot speak from a position of authority. Could there have been extenuating circumstances that lead to that decision? Perhaps there were but that cannot be ascertained without a thorough independent investigation of the entire matter.

Did officers have any other non-lethal means of subduing Crawford? According to the website, the Beavercreek Police Department has deployed such devices to their officers that advertise ranges between 15 and 35 feet--a safe distance away from someone whose mental state is undetermined. While not a totally foolproof weapon (a 2012 incident in Cincinnati left a 35-year old African-American man dead after he was tased in the chest in direct opposition to the manufacturer's instructions), it would be a far safer alternative for both the suspect and any innocent bystanders in their general vicinity than such an alternative method was employed on that August evening.

Although he has taken a lot of heat for doing so, Attorney General DeWine appears to want this process to be completed in a methodical manner. Unlike the steady leak of information to the press revolving around the recent shooting of an 18-year African-American man in Ferguson, Missouri, local authorities have been very tight-lipped concerning the events and evidence for this case. While Bishop Hilton and others brought up his office's involvement in the November 2012 case in Cleveland involving the shooting of two African-American men at the end of a high-speed pursuit, the video produced by the Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) of that incident was used by the local prosecution to indict one officer on voluntary manslaughter charges and have five supervisors suspended for dereliction of duty related to that massive breach of standard operating procedures for high-speed car chases. BCI officials were at the Walmart Superstore last week to reenact that fatal shooting based upon the collected evidence and it is hoped that they will create a similar video presentation for the prosecution in this case as well. While I don't personally agree with his politics, I expect DeWine will do the job that he was elected to as the state's top law enforcement official and seek out the truth wherever it might lead him. With this case directly impacting his November reelection bid and the international attention it has received, he really has no other choice.

I've read several local reporters' listing of questions surrounding this shooting and one that I have not heard anyone else mention involves the city's paramedics instead of police officers.The Beavercreek Walmart Superstore is located just across the street from a recently built Level-III trauma center yet Crawford was taken to another hospital that was 10 miles and between 16 and 22 minutes away by ambulance. Another customer, Angela Williams, was taken to the Soin Medical Center after experiencing an cardiac-related event directly related to the commotion surrounding the police officers' actions that night but she later died at that nearby location.

Couldn't Crawford have been taken to that same center to have him stabilized prior to moving him to the Level-I Miami Valley Hospital? Wouldn't time in an actual emergency room had been better than riding across county lines in the back of an ambulance for his life's final minutes? Such a decision was allowable in accordance with the Greater Miami Valley Emergency Medical Services Council's 2014 training manual (pages 13-14):

Level III Trauma Centers offer services, based on individual hospital resources, that provide for initial assessment, resuscitation, stabilization, and treatment of the trauma patient.

In some areas of the region a Level III Trauma Center is the only trauma facility within 30 minutes ground transport time. This hospital may act as the primary receiving facility for the critically injured patient.

In areas where the trauma patient is closer to a Level III Trauma Center, but a Level I or Level II Trauma Center is still within 30 minutes, the EMS Provider should decide whether the patient would benefit more from an immediate evaluation, stabilization, and treatment at the Level III Trauma Center, or from direct transport to a Level I or Level II Trauma Center.

According to timestamps provided by already released police radio audio tapes, Crawford was not removed from the crime scene until at least 20 minutes after he was shot and was pronounced dead at that Montgomery County hospital about 35 minutes after leaving the Walmart Superstore. With the EMS transportation criteria clearly spelled out above, I cannot fathom how that medical provider thought there was enough time to move a gunshot victim that great of a distance without having life-and-death consequences for the patient.

I do have one final question and a comment for the police support group. I applaud your efforts in starting up your online police support organization but why wasn't one started before the August 5th shooting? Unless you have one as a family member or friend, police officers, fire fighters and other first responders are not in the forefront of your daily life unless you are either being helped by them or having your life inconvenienced when they are tending to the needs of others. Facebook has now been open to the general public for eight years but you didn't create this page until August 9th of this year. These kinds of social media initiatives normally occur only after something bad happens instead of them being proactive support efforts and, in my opinion, yours would have much more credibility for your cause if it had existed on August 4th (or perhaps sometime after the last police shooting back in 2010 that was attributed to one of the two responding officers in this 2014 incident).

In closing, your organization will be tested in the weeks and months to come when the facts of this case are made known through the grand jury process that starts up in a few weeks. If charges are filed against Officer Sean Williams and he is found guilty concerning his actions during that tragic event, you must then show your support for the law and not just its enforcement agents or organizations. Our system of government completely relies upon accountability and transparency of the officials and individuals we place into its positions of responsibility to make it work. Most of them do take their roles seriously and conduct themselves within the guidelines that our society places upon them. Unfortunately, there are times when they don't and it is through an impartial investigation process that we identify such infractions and subsequently remove the offenders in order to ensure full faith and credit of those services. Pledging blind allegiance to a cause or group based on personal feelings rather than objective facts will just make the realization that not all police officers are heroes--or learning that the vast majority of African-American males are not criminals--that much harder to bear.

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