Ohio Congresswoman Pepper-Sprayed While Demonstrating Against Death Of George Floyd

May 31, 2020
Originally published on June 1, 2020 1:47 pm

Rep. Joyce Beatty, the Ohio Democrat who was pepper-sprayed at a demonstration in Columbus on Saturday, says property destruction accompanying protests over the death of George Floyd is a "distraction to the message."

Speaking to NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday, Beatty said she understands the sentiment that attempting to have a "healthy dialogue" about race hasn't worked, but that "violence doesn't work — violence either way."

"We have to somehow make sure that we get the word out that you cannot come in and tear up buildings," Beatty said. "When you break windows and destroy businesses and people get hurt, that's not going to resolve the problem of why George Floyd died."

Asked about the mobilizing of National Guard units in response to protests, Beatty said she knows they can be called in with "clear" instructions to "protect the buildings" and not "incite or engage in rioting."

Beatty was pepper-sprayed while at a demonstration in Columbus — one of the numerous protests Saturday over Floyd's death last week while in the custody of Minneapolis police.

The congresswoman said the event started out peacefully, but that something apparently "went awry" in just seconds.

She said events took a turn after an altercation between a young woman and a police officer. "I found myself saying, 'No this is wrong. Let's not excite the crowd.' Because it was almost over and it had sent a strong message," Beatty said.

Photos posted to Twitter appeared to show parts of the confrontation.

In a sequence posted by Columbus Dispatch photojournalist Kyle Robertson, Beatty appears along with the city's council president, Shannon Hardin, and Kevin Boyce, a member of the Franklin County Board of Commissioners.

Nearby, a young woman is knocked to the ground by a police officer and pepper-sprayed.

Hardin tweeted about the encounter and protest, saying that the city needed to investigate its use of force and change the use of techniques used to disperse crowds.

"I saw with my own eyes that 99 percent of protesters were just trying to make their voices heard, while some..individuals in the crowd were attempting to take advantage of the situation," Hardin tweeted Saturday. "I also saw police going too far, and that's unacceptable."

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We're following the unrest this weekend in cities across the country, and we'll go now to Columbus, Ohio, where Representative Joyce Beatty is. Congresswoman, good morning.

JOYCE BEATTY: Good morning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You marched yesterday, and you were pepper sprayed. Can you tell us what happened?

BEATTY: Well, I participated in the march yesterday because I thought it was important for me to stand in solidarity with the peaceful protesters who were standing up against the injustices that we all have been feeling not just for the last seven, eight hours. But it has certainly been a collection of emotion. And I can tell you for the first hour and a half or 40 minutes of a two-hour protest, it was very peaceful. But it appeared that something went awry in just seconds. And it started with whatever the - after police were deployed. They're not sure why. But when one gentleman - there was some type of altercation. And you know how it goes. When one person is flipped over on the ground and you're standing there on the edge, people start pushing and shoving. And as one young lady had an altercation with the police, you know, I found myself saying no, this is wrong. Let's not excite the crowd because it was almost over. And it had sent a strong message. But after that, for some reason, pepper spray was pulled out in the face of a young sister next to me. And you know as pepper goes - or now at least I know, it doesn't have any direction after its release. So it was not a direct spray.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Representative, I have to ask you - NPR's reported that military police were planning to deploy from places like Fort Bragg and Fort Drum. Do you have any concerns about using the U.S. armed forces right now considering some of the scenes we've seen with the reaction by the police?

BEATTY: I think we have to - I think it's twofold and maybe even a parallel track. I think we have to protect our communities. I don't think that destruction is helpful. I think it's a distraction to the message. And so unfortunately, when buildings and businesses, hard-working Americans' businesses are being burnt up, there is a historic outreach to call in the National Guard.

But I also know you can call in the National Guard with clear instructions that you are there to protect the buildings and not to excite and engage in rioting because that's not going to help anything. And history has taught us that. So I think we have to figure out how we all come together and have a healthy dialogue. And I know that sounds like we've done that before and it doesn't work, but violence doesn't work. Violence either way. That's what got us into this, injustices. So we have to somehow make sure that we get the word out that you cannot come in and tear up buildings. They're just buildings. But when you break windows and destroy businesses and people get hurt, that's not going to resolve the problem of why George Floyd died.


BEATTY: And that was another reason I wanted to be there to be that voice and to stand with so many of those individuals who were there and who did the right thing.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Joyce Beatty. She's a Democrat who represents Ohio in the U.S. House. Congresswoman, thank you very much.

BEATTY: Thank you.

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