Several hundred people gathered Tuesday night in east Columbus to protest a Missouri grand jury’s decision not to indict police officer Darren Wilson for shooting and killing Michael Brown in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson.
Too Many Police-Involved Shootings in Columbus?
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Police-involved shootings have been on the increase in Columbus. Over the past two years, there have been 42 police shootings; 14 people have been killed.
It was near the intersection of Mount Vernon Avenue and North 17th Street that 31-year-old Edward â€œTiggerâ€ Hayes was shot to death by a Columbus police officer. Hayes had been in a car with several other black men on the night of June 6th 2008 when police officers approached. Edward Hayes ran away. Area resident Barry Edney says he witnessed the shooting.
â€œI did hear Edward Hayes say, â€˜Please donâ€™t shoot me, please donâ€™t shoot me,â€™” Edney says. “Then all of a sudden: Pow! Pow!â€
Hayes had come to Columbus from New Orleans to visit relatives. Back in Louisiana his mother, Elaine Valentine Hayes, was on the phone searching frantically for information about her son. Sensing the worst, she called the coronerâ€™s office.
â€œAnd the man asked me,he said, â€˜Does he have a tattoo on his forearm that says â€œTigger?â€â€™ And I said â€œYes.â€ So I asked him, I said, â€˜Well if Iâ€™m calling the morgue.â€™ Then I said, â€˜Well then, heâ€™s dead?â€™ And he said, â€˜Yes, heâ€™s dead.â€™ And Iâ€™m like, â€˜Oh my God.â€™”
The coronerâ€™s report found that Edward Hayes, the father of several children, had been shot in the back.
Police maintained Hayes, armed with a gun, was a threat even as he ran away.
A police internal investigation found that Officer Fredrick Hannah acted appropriately.
Like all fatal police shootings, the Edward Hayes case was referred to a grand jury. Franklin County Prosecutor Ron Oâ€™Brien says the grand jury conducted a thorough examination of the evidence.
â€œThere was a gun recovered in the chase; it did have the deceasedâ€™s DNA on it and the officerâ€™s statement was that the man was running away from him and reached backwards pointing a gun in the officerâ€™s direction,â€ Oâ€™Brien says.
The grand jury refused to press charges against Officer Hannah, leaving Hayesâ€™ mother struggling for answers.
â€œMy child went to Columbus for a wedding and a graduation and now heâ€™s dead. Heâ€™s dead. What happened that now my son is dead?â€ asks Hayes.
Since then, the number of police involved shootings has continued to rise. In 2011, Columbus police fired weapons 21 times. During those 21 incidents 7 people were killed. Columbusâ€™ population is about 800,000. In New York City, home to 8 million people â€“ 10 times the size of Columbus – only 9 people were killed last year in police shootings.
In recent months police bullets have struck two innocent people: a female bystander in the Arena District and a man who was reporting a burglary. The woman was wounded, the man killed. That raises the question, are there too many police-involved shootings in Columbus? Chief of police Kim Jacobs answered this way:
â€œI wish that there didnâ€™t have to be any. I would like it to be none. But I canâ€™t say that thereâ€™s too many,â€ Jacobs says
Richard Lundman, an Ohio State University sociologist has a different perspective.
â€œI am worried that there are too many police involved shootings in Columbus. They have been firing a lot of shots and some of those shots have been hitting people; others have missed,â€ Lundman says
Lundman says heâ€™s also worried that, as the number of shootings increases, tensions will eventually boil over.
â€œThe shootings are occurring predominantly in poor neighborhoods and predominantly in poor black neighborhoods. And there is a real palpable tension between police and residents of poor black neighborhoods in Columbus and elsewhere. Thereâ€™s a long history of heavy-handed policing in poor black neighborhoods. I call it gasoline on the ground. And all it requires is a spark,â€ Lundman says
Chief Jacobs says sheâ€™s aware that thereâ€™s the potential for an outbreak of violence.
â€œI do not want civil unrest here. I do not want riots in the streets based on a police action. You know, the police are here to help and thatâ€™s our goal. And we canâ€™t help if people donâ€™t trust us,â€ Jacobs says.
Jacobs says the division continues to review their training procedures and policies.
The heart of the debate over the use of deadly force is this: When is it justified? Prosecutor Ron Oâ€™Brien says Officer Fredrick Hannah who shot Edward Hayes felt that his life was in jeopardy.
â€œHe is justified in discharging his firearm if he thinks his life is in danger. And thatâ€™s what he believed and thatâ€™s what the grand jury apparently concluded because they didnâ€™t find that he should be charged,â€ Oâ€™Brien says.
Elaine Hayes says her life has forever been altered.
â€œMy whole world has changed. I donâ€™t see through those same little innocent eyes,â€ Hayes says.
The Hayeses continue to seek justice.
Theyâ€™re awaiting a ruling from a Franklin County Common Pleas court.