A protest in front of the Athens County Courthouse Tuesday against the killing of George Floyd
[Claudia Cisneros | WOUB]

DeWine: ‘There Is Racism In Ohio And Across The Country’

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (WKSU) — Gov. Mike DeWine dedicated most of his press conference about the coronavirus Tuesday to discussing racism in the state.

“The essential function of government is to protect the most vulnerable among us,” DeWine said. “I am the governor for all of the state of Ohio. It is my job to serve all the people for the state of Ohio. It is our job to defend the defenseless, and it is my job to bring people together.”

The comments follow days of protests in the state and nation over the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a White Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes while arresting him. Some protests went from peaceful to violent with police utilizing pepper spray and firing rubber bullets to disperse crowds.

Many of the moments were captured on social media, and some documented instances when police used aggressive tactics. DeWine noticed, and said it’s time for change.

Selecting and training police
In the coming days, he’ll be working with the General Assembly to come up with plans to increase law enforcement training to prevent bias and create a stronger system to weed out officers who “should not be police officers.” He said most of the time when officers get fired, they tend to be rehired elsewhere. DeWine plans to create a process that ends that cycle.

“We must enhance transparency between the public and our police departments,” DeWine said.

As for the protests, DeWine said he wants people to continue speaking up to get out the message.

But as for the government, he said it’s time for change.

“It is dangerous when we let words become weapons,” DeWine said. “So I think the most important thing is to let our actions speak louder than our words.”

DeWine plans to work with local officials across the state to create solutions for issues disproportionately affecting minorities, including lead paint in urban-area homes, education disparities and infant mortality.

“The basic truth is that everyone does better when everyone has real opportunity,” DeWine said. “We still have too many Ohioans that are living in the shadow of opportunity. There is racism in Ohio and across the country.”

He hopes to have more updates on those plans Thursday.

Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton also gave a moving statement in relation to the protests and the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky.

“Anyone who is left behind, when we do not realize our full potential, all of us are suffering from that,” Acton said. “I am begging of you, please use your voice. Speak. Most importantly, listen. Listen to one another. But I beg of you not to hurt one another. We cannot see the other person as that, ‘as other.’ I beg of people to realize the few people who do wrong is not all of us.”

DeWine said he supports the First Amendment and encourages protests to continue, but says violence and destruction won’t be tolerated. Protests over the weekend in Cleveland, Akron and Columbus resulted in damaged and looted buildings.

“Protesters who are expressing outrage is not only understandable, it is very appropriate,” DeWine said. “We have seen some violent individuals, and because of their violence, (they) have drowned out some of the voices of reason.”

He said it’s the reason why he deployed the National Guard earlier this week to Cleveland and Columbus at the request of the cities’ mayors.

Major General John Harris, Jr., Adjutant General of the Ohio National Guard joined DeWine and explained many of the members deployed are citizens who have day jobs. They’re a part of the Response Force team, specifically trained to assist local law enforcement as they work to protect life, protect property and restore order.

“These are your neighbors. These are coworkers. These are people that you know,” Harris said.

Cleveland and Columbus remain under a curfew until Tuesday night.

Coronavirus updates
DeWine said he fully expects students to be back in school this fall. He’s currently working with officials to come up with health guidelines. As for the start date, that’s up to local school boards.

Hospitals will also be able to resume surgeries and procedures in full. A few weeks ago, he gave hospitals the green light to resume surgeries if they didn’t require an overnight stay.

Lt. Gov. Jon Husted also announced new efforts to help the state’s economy, including a $10 million loan program for small businesses affected by the pandemic in the Appalachian region. It’ll offer up to $500,000 per business at 2% interest.

The state has also created the Ohio Micro-Enterprise Grant Program to help small minority- and women-owned businesses through the pandemic. As many as 500 businesses that qualify could receive up to $10,000.

As of Tuesday, Ohio has 36,350 total COVID-19 cases and 2,258 total deaths. The Ohio Department of Health’s 21-day trends show cases remaining flat while deaths, hospitalizations and ICU admissions have seen some sharp increases.