In that moment, Ohio Representative Joyce Beatty said, she was just another black American attacked while protesting injustice.
Joyce Beatty had never been pepper-sprayed before.
Growing up in Dayton during the 1960s, the 70-year-old Ohio congresswoman remembers having to use a different water fountain from the white people in her community, and having to swim in a different public pool. Throughout her life and political career, which began in the state legislature in the late ’90s, she’d taken part in many civil-rights demonstrations.
But the pepper spray was new to her. It “shuts you down,” she told me in an interview this morning. “It gets into your lungs. You’re coughing profusely. You can’t see.”
It happened yesterday afternoon, when Beatty joined a group of demonstrators in downtown Columbus protesting police violence following the killing of George Floyd, a black man who died Monday after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes. In videos of the protest now circulating on Twitter, Beatty, with her gray hair, red mask, and hot-pink sweatshirt tied around her small waist, is easy to spot. Standing in front of a Pizza Rustica, she can be heard urging her fellow protesters not to taunt the police. “Don’t excite them!” she yells, again and again. For a few seconds, the scene seems as if it could de-escalate. Then, suddenly, an officer throws a protester to the ground, and any semblance of order is lost. The crowd surges forward, with Beatty at the front, waving her arms. The officers begin to pepper-spray people indiscriminately; the crowd disperses, screaming; and Beatty is led away by two colleagues.