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Columbus Police and Activists React To A Week Of Deadly U.S. Shootings

Esther Honig
After a week of deadly shootings, graduates from the Columbus Police Academy, accept their certificate from Chief Kim Jacobs and Mayor Andrew Ginther.

On Friday morning, 35 young officers sit in starched white uniforms at the auditorium of the Columbus Police Academy. Family and friends in their best suits and dresses have come to celebrate their accomplishment.

This is the 125th class that the department has graduated, but in light of recent events - the fatal police shootings of two black men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, and Thursday night's shootings of five officers in Dallas, Texas - the feeling today is more somber than usual.

Like many of the city's leaders who spoke at the ceremony, Mayor Andrew Ginther expressed his grief over Thursday night's events.

"Our society, our democracy will not tolerate the horrific and heinous actions or the murders in Dallas last night, said Ginther."

Watching the ceremony, Police Chief Kim Jacobs thinks back to her own graduation. After six months of sitting in a classroom, she says you're eager to get out there and apply what's been learned. But she knows that today that enthusiasm could be slightly hindered.

"I have to understand though, that these officers have this cloud hanging over them."

Jacobs says more than anyone this has to affect the families most of all.

"Their families are worried, probably more than the new officers are worried, because the officers know how prepared they are. The families just hear about it," said Jacobs.

Jacobs says that in light of these shootings there are no immediate plans to change their policing tactics at protests, or on patrol. Just as they adjusted their response to the local Pride Parade after the Orlando shootings, Jacobs says they must now be aware that ambushes like Dallas can happen.

"But were not going to automatically hunker down and say that people don't trust us and that people are attacking us," said Jacobs.

Credit People's Justice Project / WOSU
On Thursday evening Aramis Sundiate with the People's Justice Project holds a training on racial justice and police brutality.

Aramis Sundiate is the state coordinator for the People's Justice Project, a Columbus based organization that's led protests around the case of Henry Green, a young black man fatally shot by police in the Linden neighborhood in June.

Just yesterday morning Sundiate says he felt the reverberations of the police involved shootings of Sterling and Castile. He says his phone rang off the hook. 

"Parents were asking me, what do I say to my son about this? One parent was saying that their son was afraid to go out the door because they saw a police officer drive by, and he said like, 'Mom what do I do I'm scared.'"

Sundiate says he's been involved in the Black Lives Matter movement for more than two years and these recent events aren't as shocking to him anymore.

These days he focuses on the bigger picture and his reaction is generally to continue to organize and seek progress. That's how he felt when he heard about the shooting deaths of the five Dallas officers.

"It was sad. It broke my heart that people were shot," said Sundiate. "People are worried and as an organizer you have to internalize that because you're a leader. You have to lead people."

But Sundiate says he's not concerned that this event will change the conversation around the Black Lives Matter movement and it won't effect the efforts of the People's Justice Project. He knows this work will always face opposition.

"There's always folks who don't agree with your position. That's part of history. That's part of this work," said Sundiate.

I ask Sundiate what he might have to say to the recent graduates of the Columbus Police Academy. He hesitates, says if he could, he'd write a five-page response, then he takes a deep breath.

"They're still people. It's not about them. It's about the institution. The deeper conversation is about the institution needs to be transformed."