WOOSTER − Over 900 days and counting, Wooster’s daily demonstrations are among the nation’s longest-lasting racial justice movements.
The band of concerned citizens and Wayne County Racial Justice Coalition and Wooster/Orrville NAACP members scored major victories in 2022 when the Wooster Police Department limited the use of no-knock warrants, carotid holds and chokeholds by its officers.
Because of these wins and consistent public support, the movement isn’t slowing down. It plans to expand beyond the borders of Wooster.
“Getting to 900 days means the community cares about those changes,” said Desiree Weber, chair of the Wooster/Orrville NAACP Political and Community Engagement Committee.
To Weber, who has been with the movement from the very beginning, it took a village (or a city) of people who see racial justice in everyday life to make this possible, she said.
Where is the movement headed?
While Weber would not say which city the movement would focus its reform efforts in next, she said the Racial Justice Coalition had identified four departments of interest in 2021.
Those included Wooster, Orrville, Rittman and the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office.
“We are working to start conversations,” Weber said. “We’re in the beginning stages.”
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The coalition, she said, will focus on choke hold, carotid hold and no-knock warrant policy limitations while urging for increased data transparency.
There are no plans to move daily demonstrations out of Wooster as most participants live in or around the city, but Weber encouraged anyone to start their own rally.
“We don’t have a monopoly on public demonstrations, so any can start something,” she said. “It will keep going if people want it.”
What remains to be done in Wooster?
The daily demonstrations began soon after George Floyd died in 2020 after Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
Its success in Wooster led to three major policy changes, but some reform still remains, Weber said.
The remaining goals include data transparency, how body camera footage is released, diversity in the police force and public comments to be included in the Wooster City Council meeting minutes.
“We still have policy goals in Wooster, but there were some issues that didn’t get worked through,” she said. “This is in part because we didn’t do all of our homework and didn’t have specific policy changes in mind.”
Reflecting on 2022
For Weber, the biggest event for the movement was the three major Wooster Police Department policy reforms.
But beyond the reforms, she said the police department was receptive and respectful of the group’s concerns.
“That was something we identified as early as July 2020,” she said. “In the end, the meetings with the Wooster Police Department were open, and they were very engaging.”
Weber also is proud of Paul Luster’s work on the NAACP Criminal Justice subcommittee, where his team helps formerly incarcerated individuals ease back into the community.
This includes finding jobs, homes and services and expunging records.
As the election geared up, the Racial Justice Coalition and the NAACP partnered with organizations like the League of Women Voters to register voters at multiple Wooster and Orrville events.
“This was something I wanted for a while,” Weber said. “It’s great working together with other organizations like that.”
Among the longest-lasting movements
Jay Ulfelder at the Crowd Counting Consortium tracks demonstrations across the nation.
By his estimation, Wooster’s daily demonstrations are among four of the most sustained daily actions for racial justice and against police brutality.
Daily demonstrations slowly halted across the country in the weeks and months after George Floyd’s death, while others shifted to weekly gatherings.
The few daily rallies include one at McCarren Park in Brooklyn, New York, another in Sherman Oaks, California, and potentially one in Rockford, Illinois.
“I’m actually not 100% sure (the Illinois protest) is still going; their Instagram feed is a bit ambiguous in that regard,” he wrote.
Ulfelder noticed how tactics have shifted and varied from demonstration to demonstration.
“One thing I find interesting is the diversity of tactics exhibited, even in this very small sample,” he wrote. “From traditional demonstrations with placards and such to street cleanings and mutual-aid events to encampments and signs and chalkings to readings and film-viewings.”
In Wooster, the tactics remain the same. Placards, signs, waving, smiles and casual conversations with passersby instead of chants.
“For me, I want to say thank you to the wider community who sees racial justice in everyday life,” Weber said. “We see it in passersby, new visitors and people that drive by.”