Over 100 People Observe 1,000th Day of Protest for Racial Justice

NAACP and other organizations call for reform in Orrville Police and take stance against censorship in Wayne County Public Library

Hudson Davis ’24 and Jade Green ’23 protest for racial justice downtown (Photo courtesy of Sam Boudreau ’23).
Samuel Boudreau, Editor in Chief

It was a frigid but pleasant day in downtown Wooster, on Saturday Feb. 25, 2023, as community members from Wooster and across Wayne County gathered at Wooster Square in downtown Wooster to stand up for racial justice, marking the 1000th consecutive day of protest for racial justice since the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. Speakers for the event included Evan Wilhelms – who read a speech from Désirée Weber, professor of political science – Oliver Warren, a Wooster high school history teacher; Laura Burch, associate professor of French and Francophone Studies at The College of Wooster; and Rev. Walter Clark of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. While there have been a number of national and local moments of progress, including the conviction of Minneapolis Police Officers responsible for the death of George Floyd and local reform in the Wooster Police Department, speakers at the 1,000th demonstration advocated the need for further progress amidst tragic loss. For Makiba Foster, Head Librarian at The College of Wooster, the murder of Tyree Nichols at the hands of Memphis Police Officers earlier this year weighed heavily on her mind during the protest. “Although these issues they are demonstrating against might not directly impact most of the people participating in the local protest movement,” said Foster, “it was affirming to see that they are an example that everyone should work for a world free from all the isms that deny people their full humanity.” Burch reiterated Foster’s statement, telling the Voice that “It was important for me to help mark this milestone in our local protest efforts…Police killed more people in the U.S. in 2022 than in any other year on record. The police officer who murdered George Floyd may be in jail, but the system that enabled his violent behavior is still very much in place.” Several students, faculty, staff and trustees came out to support the protest. Brendan Ortiz ’23 attended the protest sign in hand, “wanting to support the movement with that crowd impact.” Standing on the corner of the street, Pam Frese, professor of sociology and anthropology and member of the NAACP, “the sign I was holding said ‘justice for all,’ and I totally believe that, and that includes BIPOC, LatinX, indigenous, everybody needs justice.” Frese also expressed optimism that the College’s NAACP chapter will restart in the near future. 

Wooster-Orrville NAACP President, Juanita Greene, concluded the protest, informing participants that the Wayne County Racial Justice Coalition and the NAACP are making strides to reform police conduct in Orrville. “We are now working in Orrville for the same thing,” she said.  Additionally, Greene called on participants to counter attempts to restrict access to local library materials. “The most important thing we can do, right here in our community,” said Greene, “[is] we’ve got to stop them from trying to censor what books are in the library.”

Greene is likely referring to a string of attempts in the fall of 2022 from local community members and political figures to censor a series of books in the Wayne County Public Library. The “petition to [sic] Wayne County Public Library”originally emerged in September 2022 that called to “remove all literature concerning sex, sexual orientation, LGBTQIA, transgender, DRAG-QUEEN [sic] from public shelves for those under the age of 10 yrs. old.” According to a copy of the petition obtained from the Voice, 12 people signed the petition, commenting that the literature “should not be on the shelves, inappropriate for children” or was “not good.” A second petition, with an unknown source, circulated around Wayne County, petitioning that “We, the undersigned, motion the Wayne County Public Library to remove all materials (DVD, CD, Books, Magazines and computer sites) from the Children’s Section containing pictures and/or written details concerning sex, sexual orientation, puberty, genitalia, transgender, LGBTQIA, homosexuality, drag queens, pornography. These materials need to be removed from the sight and reach of children under the age of 12 years old requiring parental approval to be viewed or checked out.” The petition received nearly 90 signatures, several from public officials including Wayne County commissioner Sue Smail. Jennifer Shatzer, Executive Director of the Wayne County Public Library, told the Voice that “that petition is not how we address these issues,” instead referring the petition signers to submit an online complaint form. While the petition did not address any specific books, several requests were made to reconsider the following books: “It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies,” “Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health” (1994) by Robie H. Harris, “The Every Body Book: The LGBTQ+ Inclusive Guide for Kids about Sex, Gender, Bodies, and Families” (2020) by Rachel E. Simon, “The Hips on the Drag Queen Go Swish, Swish, Swish” (2020) by Lil Miss Hot Mess, “Pink, Blue, and You!: Questions for Kids about Gender Stereotypes” (2022) by Elise Gravel and Mykaell Blais, “Puberty is Gross But Also Really Awesome” (2021) by Gina Loveless, “The Rainbow Parade” (2022) by Emily Neilson, “What Are Your Words: A Book About Pronouns” (2021) by Katherine Locke. None of the books were removed from the library, but several of the texts, “It’s Perfectly Normal,” “The Every Body Book” and “The Hips on the Drag Queen” were relocated to either the parenting collection or junior fiction. Shatzer told the Voice that these titles have received increased interest due to the recent petition. Since the September and October petitions, Shatzer said there has not been any large petition to have the following books removed. “It’s actually been kind of quiet, knock on wood,” said Shatzer. 
Another area of reform that the Wooster-Orrville NAACP spoke about was police guidelines and policies in the Orrville Police Department. Reform in the Orrville Police Department comes on the heels of the NAACP, the Wayne County Racial Justice Coalition’s discussions with the Wooster Police Department to write policy changes. On nearly the second anniversary of the murder of George Floyd on May 24, 2022, the Wooster-Orrville NAACP announced the following reforms on May 24,2022: “Chokeholds are now placed in the “use of deadly force” category, subject to the same restrictions as the use of deadly force using a gun, in line with federal executive order and state mandates. Carotid control holds are now defined in the manual for the first time and also placed in the “use of deadly force” category. [Regarding] no-knock warrants: the manual now articulates that the default policy is to seek “knock and announce” warrants and daytime warrants, and increases the standard for facts or circumstances that may justify seeking a no-knock warrant, and requires these to be set forth in an affidavit submitted to the court.” When asked on the status of these reform discussions and implementation, Matt Birckbeck, Chief of the Orrville Police Department, told the Voice that “We have met on two occasions and have plans for another meeting. We have an informal agreement not to discuss details publicly at this point, which I intend to honor.” The Wooster-Orrville NAACP did not respond to the Voice’s request for comment.

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