Dave Chappelle stands up against police brutality in his Ohio hometown
Comedian Dave Chappelle did an unlikely form of open mic this week when he entered the debate about aggressive policing at a town hall meeting in the otherwise liberal enclave of Yellow Springs, Ohio.
Officers there recently made national headlines for the way they responded to a raucous New Year’s Eve party where Chappelle was a guest. He described the altercation with Yellow Springs police as “a huge gaffe.”
“I saw it all go down. I was there with my children and I was there with my friends and neighbors,” Chappelle said in a speech posted on YouTube.
Eight minutes past midnight, officers of Yellow Springs began forcing the crowd gathered to watch the annual tradition of the disco-ball drop to break up. Many residents saw the police action as more aggressive than usual and approached the police for an explanation.
One resident was David Carlson, who was later described by police as drunk, disorderly, and threatening. Carlson, who is black, was allegedly forced to the ground by an officer. He was able to escape the melee in the ensuing confusion, and was later apprehended and charged with felony obstruction and misdemeanor theft for allegedly taking an officer’s Taser.
The overwhelmingly liberal town (it’s also the home of Antioch College) seems largely in agreement that the police’s behavior was unwarranted and escalated a non-violent situation, but they’re divided on whether the response was racially charged. Residents of Yellow Springs pride themselves on being uniquely open minded and tolerant, and despite the progressive history and activist tendencies of residents, some residents tell the “New York Times” there are racial overtones.
“Yeah, I experience this everywhere I go,” Ayanna Madison a 16-year-old Yellow Springs High School student, who is black, told the paper. “I’ve heard stories of this countless times, and it’s not going to change until it happens to the rich kids, until it happens to the white kids, until it happens to the kids whose families control the power in the town or the city.”
Out of roughly 13,500 residents, 13 percent are African American and 81 percent are white. Chappelle moved to Yellow Springs when he was fourteen and returned after he unexpectedly quit his hit TV series, “Chappelle’s Show” in 2005.
In the months since the incident, the town has held a series of city hall meetings focusing on the police response and participants have suggested various measures including replacing police officers with social workers, providing subsidies for officers to live in town, and training officers in crisis intervention and implicit bias.
Chappelle attended the most recent city hall to give his perspective on the current situation, where he said he, and others in the town, feel connected to the police by virtue of growing up together and knowing each other’s children and siblings. Hiring officers from out of town has dampened that connection.
“The police have been actually sensitive to my situation. I know of at least two occasions where they protected my own well-being, my personal well-being, unsolicited by me. So I appreciate that,” Chappelle said. “Now we are being policed by what feels like an alien force.”
He called for a more progressive police force and gave his own personal recommendation on who the town should select to replace the police chief, who resigned following the incident.
“Find a candidate who matches the culture of this town, which is incredibly unique, which is renowned for being incredibly unique,” urged Chappelle. “I would beseech the council to look deeply and to look hard, because this is a golden opportunity. Literally we could kill the game. In this Trump era, there’s an opportunity to show everybody that local politics reign supreme. We can make our corner of the world outstanding.”