Yellow Springs, OH — Comedian Dave Chappelle was moved to attend a city council meeting in the small Ohio town where he lives, following a New Year’s Eve incident in which officers acted aggressively toward revelers — to call out what many felt was the small town’s dangerous flirtation with brutal policing.
Duly noting Yellow Springs Police have, indeed, assisted him on two occasions, Chappelle turned to the law enforcement panel and scolded sternly,
“Huge gaffe, New Year’s Eve.”
Affirmative murmurs from the residents in attendance made clear the comedian and political activist wasn’t alone in criticizing police for deploying Tasers against possibly-inebriated African American holidaymakers.
With a predominantly caucasian population of around 3,500 — and students attending private Antioch College — Yellow Springs is more sleepy, quirky enclave than bustling city, thus has not experienced the worst of a shamefully rampant police violence issue.
Per New Year’s Eve tradition, a crowd gathered downtown to celebrate and watch a disco ball drop at midnight — but the atmosphere turned strangely sour as the event drew to a close. The Chicago Tribune reports,
“Residents told the New York Times that officers began clearing the crowd more swiftly than usual. As they moved to disperse the residents, police said, according to the Times, that a 29-year-old black man named David Carlson, who was drunk, began to threaten officers and hit a squad car. An attorney for Carlson denied he was aggressive. After one officer forced Carlson to the ground, he slipped away into the mostly white crowd, which tried to prevent officers from following him.”
In other words, the crowd moved to prevent unnecessary violence or arrest by police against a man who might have been drinking too heavily at a holiday event. But that didn’t stop the cops.
“There was a Taser deployed in a crowd and it missed,” an anonymous eyewitness told the Yellow Springs News at the time. “It could have hit a child.”
So rare are incidents where police in Yellow Springs have had to employ force of this nature, many residents were stunned the violence, albeit on a constricted scale, had finally touched their town.
Witness and 20-year resident, Anita Brown, told Yellow Springs News, as quoted by the Tribune, the officers seemed “emotionless, with no sense of caring. I witnessed villagers de-escalating and officers escalating, it was so strange, it seemed so backwards.”
“In all fairness,” Chappelle said to audience laughter, discussing the holiday scofflaw, “the crowd was drunk.” He added, deadpan, “because it was New Year’s Eve. … And, I left early, because nobody felt completely ‘right.’”
In response to ensuing contention, if perhaps in deference to outrage against police departments nationwide — those whose errant officers and corrupt supervisors frequently fail to be disciplined for controversial wrongdoings — Yellow Springs Police Chief Dave Hale resigned from the force on January 3.
On Monday, Chappelle attended the village council meeting to advocate for immediate reform of policing, with an eye to community relations, saying the council has “a tremendous opportunity for us to be a leader in progressive law enforcement.”
Where the bond between the community and police shattered was the shift from officers who live in the areas they serve. Noting when he attended school, everyone knew various officers because their children or other family members attended the same schools, Chappelle observed,
“Now we are being policed by what feels like an alien force.”
Thanks to the government’s military surplus giveaway to local and state law enforcement, an aggressive and combatant — and staunchly authoritarian — method of policing has supplanted the albeit Rockwellian image of Officer Friendly patrolling with a smile, ostensively just decades ago.
Chappelle’s comparison might be new for tiny Yellow Springs, Ohio, but images of stormtrooper cops in military and riot gear, sometimes sporting imposing face shields, automatic rifles, and usually backed by armored vehicles — sometimes menacing, always intimidating — have splashed periodically across headlines for years.
As civilians fight tooth and nail to reform police forces nationwide, the violence wrought by those with a badge and gun continues to infect even the smallest havens like Chappelle’s hometown.
For the down-to-earth, politically-aware comedian, stepping to the mic to be a resounding voice of caution and to advocate for preemptive change is a way to draw attention to a timely cause.
“This is an opportunity to show everybody that local politics reigns supreme,” Chappelle concluded. “We can make our corner of the world outstanding.”