A Franklin County, Ohio, Municipal Court Judge on Tuesday sentenced three LGBT protesters to two years of probation following their conviction by a jury last month on several misdemeanor charges related to their decision to block the path of the Columbus Pride parade in June 2017.
A decision by Columbus police to arrest the three activists and a fourth person who joined them, who has yet to go on trial, created an uproar among many in the local LGBT community, who denounced the police action for violating the four activists’ First Amendment right to protest peacefully.
The arrested protesters, who have become known as the Black Pride 4, said their intent was to draw attention to violence against transgender women of color, the “marginalization of queer and trans people of color” within the LGBT community, and the fatal double shooting by Columbus police of an African-American male teenager and young African-American adult male in 2016. The two shooting incidents were not LGBT related.
The June 17, 2017 arrests of the four LGBT protesters in Columbus took place one week after members of the D.C. area protest group No Justice No Pride blocked the route of D.C.’s Capital Pride Parade. D.C. police, who were on hand at the site of the blocked parade, chose to reroute the parade rather than arrest the protesters.
The No Justice No Pride protesters said their decision to block the Capital Pride Parade route was based, among other things, on Capital Pride leaders’ refusal to agree to their demands that uniformed D.C. police be banned from participating in the parade and that certain corporate sponsors of the Pride festivities be dropped.
Columbus police said officers arrived at the site on bicycles where about a dozen protesters were blocking the route of the Pride parade. They said they ordered the protesters to move to allow the parade to continue and all but four complied with the police order.
Police said the four that refused to move were initially charged with disorderly conduct, failure to comply with a police officer’s orders, and resisting arrest, all of which are misdemeanors. The fourth protester, Deandre Miles, who has yet to go on trial, was charged with a felony offense of aggravated robbery for allegedly attempting to grab one of the police officer’s guns.
According to the Columbus Dispatch, a Franklin County Municipal Court jury on Feb. 13 handed down these convictions for the three protesters: Wriply Bennet, disorderly conduct, failure to comply with a police officers’ order, and resisting arrest; Ashley Braxton, disorderly conduct and failure to comply; and Kendall Denton, disorderly conduct.
At the sentencing on Tuesday, March 13, Judge Cynthia Ebner sentenced Bennet to a $200 fine, 80 hours of community service, and two years of probation. Braxton was sentenced to a $200 fine plus court costs, 60 hours of community service, and two years of probation. Ebner sentenced Denton to a $50 fine plus court costs, 48 hours of community service, and two years of probation.
Ebner said each of the three would be eligible to write a letter to the court requesting termination of their probation and the remainder of their community service after they complete half of their community service requirement.
Joseph Gibson, deputy chief prosecutor for the City of Columbus, told the Blade on Wednesday that the police decision to arrest the four protesters after they refused to discontinue blocking the parade was justified.
He said police were in the area of the parade at the request of the FBI and other federal law enforcement officials as a precaution against potential violence following the Pulse Nightclub mass shooting one year earlier in which a gunman appeared to have targeted a gay nightclub. Gibson said the arrests were also justified to protect the rights of Stonewall Columbus, the LGBT group that organizes the Pride parade each year.
“Stonewall had a lawful permit for a parade and for the exercise of their First Amendment rights,” he said. “It is not a lawful exercise of First Amendment rights to infringe on someone else’s First Amendment rights,” Gibson continued. “We did not prosecute them for their message. We prosecuted people for disrupting the parade.”