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Local Walmart protesters are sentenced

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Several Yellow Springs residents pleaded no contest in Fairborn Municipal Court last week to charges that they trespassed during two demonstrations in December to protest police aggression, following last summer’s police slaying of John Crawford III. The local residents were among the 16 area demonstrators who were arrested at events organized at the Fairfield Commons Mall on Dec. 24 by the Ohio Student Association, and at the Beavercreek Walmart on Dec. 20 organized by Greene County Black Lives Matter, both of which drew an estimated 150 supporters seeking justice for Crawford and a more accountable law enforcement system.

Village resident Sandy King was charged with obstructing official business, resisting arrest and trespassing for her participation in the “die in” demonstration on Dec. 20 at Walmart, where Crawford had been shot by a Beavercreek officer while holding a BB gun he got from the store counter. Her charges were brought down to trespassing, and she was sentenced to 16 hours of community service and $300 in fines and court costs, which the OSA has said it will cover.

At her sentencing, King told the judge that she found it ironic that the police were so aggressive with people who were demonstrating for peace and that she would continue to stand against a justice system that discriminates against black citizens.

Villagers Maya Thornton-Hodge, Nancy Epling and Julius Eason were also charged with trespassing at the Dec. 24th event. Eason and Thornton-Hodge pleaded guilty to trespassing after a charge of obstructing official business was dropped. They were also fined and given 16 hours of community service. Epling is scheduled to appear in court on April 28. As a student of intergroup relations and racial dynamics in the U.S., her view of the imbalance of power between citizens and the police moved Thornton-Hodge to attend the mall demonstration. Both she and King felt dehumanized and disempowered during the arrest and jailing procedure, they said.

“Having someone touch your body and force you to comply — it’s an invasion, and we are being subjected to it as if it’s an acceptable thing,” King said.

Local resident Steve McQueen, who is making an audio documentary about the demonstrations for WYSO’s community voices training, said his interviews capture the hypocrisy of a system that declined to indict the officer who killed Crawford but quickly charged peace demonstrators with criminal offenses.

Yellow Springs attorney Mark Babb and Dayton attorney A.J. Wagner helped represent village residents pro bono. Babb said last week that as a paid attorney, he often defends people who have made mistakes. But in this instance, “it’s nice to feel I can represent someone who is doing something as an act of conscience and is trying to help other people.”

Though last week’s sentencing has ended this episode for some, Epling is still hoping the courts would allow community service time to be served in dialogue between the police and the community.

In the end, Thornton-Hodge said, the demonstrations didn’t change anything in the moment. But her participation in the powerful movement has motivated her to stay with Black Lives Matter and to keep pushing for change, she said.

“The fighting continues!”

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