They were part of a group that protested at last year’s Columbus Pride parade.
By Bob Vitale
A Franklin County jury convicted three black and LGBTQ activists Monday on six misdemeanor counts stemming from a 2017 Columbus Pride protest of police violence, violence against trans women and marginalization of people of color within the LGBTQ community.
Sentencing for Wriply Bennet, Ashley Braxton and Kendall Denton will come sometime within the next month. The jury of five women and three men convicted Bennet of disorderly conduct, failure to comply with a police officer’s orders and resisting arrest; Braxton of disorderly conduct and failure to comply; and Denton of disorderly conduct.
If the sentences include jail time, the Ohio Revised Code indicates Bennet could face up to 10 months, Braxton could face up to seven months, and Denton could face up to one month.
Criticism of the verdict on social media came swiftly. Supporters of the protesters, dubbed the Black Pride 4 because their ranks include another queer activist who faces a separate trial on more serious charges, packed the Franklin County Municipal Court chambers during the five-day trial and called on police and Columbus prosecutors to drop charges.
“I’m so disappointed. Naw, I’m mad as hell!!!” posted one Twitter user who goes by @konigirl.
“How soon we forget or willfully ignore the history of pride parades,” tweeted @divafeminist. “The ease with which folks throw (queer and trans people of color) under the bus is mortifying.”
Black Queer & Intersectional Columbus called the verdict “devastating.” Columbus resident Piper Kerman, author of “Orange Is the New Black” and an activist for criminal justice reform, called the jury’s decision “a violation of justice.”
“Peaceful protest is a right,” she tweeted. “Civil disobedience is essential tool 4 marginalized people & ALL people.”
Stonewall Columbus, the organizer of Columbus Pride whose board chair and former Pride coordinator testified during the trial, issued a statement following the verdict:
“Today’s verdict in the trials of three members of the #BlackPride4 further highlights the hard work ahead in our community. The court’s decision should not silence the discussion about violence and discrimination facing LGBTQ+ people of color. Rather, it should strengthen our resolve to address these systemic issues in our pursuit of equality and fairness.
“This experience has shined a light on divisions within our entire community. As we look toward the future, Stonewall Columbus will continue to work toward healing these divisions through greater collaboration and engagement. We have expanded our Board of Trustees to better reflect the community we serve and will continue to enhance our programs to better meet the needs of LGBTQ+ people of color. Upon completion of the new LGBTQ+ Center, we will dedicate space for organizations to host community forums and programming to ensure that these important discussions receive the attention they deserve.
“Stonewall Columbus is committed to increasing visibility, inclusion and connection for the LGBTQ+ community. We look forward to continuing to grow, learn, educate, and uplift our LGBTQ+ community so ALL of us THRIVE.”
BQIC, meanwhile, announced that an already-scheduled spoken-word and open mic night planned for Tuesday would accommodate discussion of the verdict.
“We’re opening up our spoken word tomorrow night for folks to say how they’re feeling, hold space for each other, and to continue building our community up to push for minimal sentencing for Wriply, Ashley, and Kendall.”
Money collected at the event (8 p.m. at the Lincoln Cafe, 740 E. Long St., Columbus, 43203) will go to a fund for the BlackPride4, BQIC leaders said.
Bennet, Braxton and Denton were among a group of about 10 protesters who linked arms and stepped onto Broad Street to block the 2017 Pride parade last June 17.
During the trial, prosecutors argued that Bennet, Braxton and Denton interrupted the Pride parade as it moved past Columbus City Hall and that they ignored repeated police commands to move back onto the sidewalks.
“These orders were given as officers arrived … and were given throughout this incident,” Prosecutor Isaac Rinsky told jurors in closing arguments.
But instead of following police orders, Rinsky said, Denton pushed forward against officers, while Bennet continued to lock arms with other activists. Braxton pulled away from a police officer as he tried to subdue her, the prosecutor said, causing the officer to injure a knee.
Jurors were shown several videos of the incident, including police body-camera footage. Lawyers for the defendants countered that in the chaotic scene, protesters were tackled or taken down by officers before they had a chance to move.
Defense attorneys said actions that prosecutors said constituted resisting arrest actually were automatic reflexes to brace themselves as they fell or get themselves off protruding police-bike pedals and handlebars.
The jury heard three days of testimony last week and deliberated for about nine hours on Friday and today.
Deandre Miles, the fourth person arrested on June 17, faces a felony charge and will be tried separately. They are charged with aggravated robbery, accused of jumping on a police officer’s back during the incident and reaching for her gun.
[An earlier version of this story used an incorrect pronoun for Deandre Miles. We apologize for the error.]