A New Year’s Eve incident involving aggressive policing prompted comedian Dave Chappelle to speak out at a village council meeting Monday in Yellow Springs, the small Ohio town where he spent part of his childhood and now lives.
Yellow Springs, a majority white town with a population of roughly 3,500, is the sort of place “where hippies slipped me bags of Girl Scout cookies” and “Tibetan jewelry stores and fair-trade coffee shops dotted the main street,” as Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah wrote at Believer magazine in 2013. At the end of each year, Yellow Springs locals gather downtown to lower a disco ball to the ground.
The holiday tradition normally passes without incident. But something seemed different in the dwindling moments of 2016.
“In all fairness, the crowd was drunk … because it was New Year’s Eve,” Chappelle said. “And I left early, because nobody felt completely right.”
Residents told the New York Times that officers began clearing the crowd more swiftly than usual. As they moved to disperse the residents, police said, according to the Times, that a 29-year-old black man named David Carlson, who was drunk, began to threaten officers and hit a squad car. An attorney for Carlson denied he was aggressive. After one officer forced Carlson to the ground, he slipped away into the mostly white crowd, which tried to prevent officers from following him.
Several villagers criticized how the authorities had handled the incident. During a special town meeting held in February, Anita Brown, a resident of Yellow Springs for more than two decades, said that she had never been more afraid in her own village. Brown, the Yellow Springs News reported, described the officers as “emotionless, with no sense of caring. I witnessed villagers de-escalating and officers escalating, it was so strange, it seemed so backwards.”
Yellow Springs was in the process of hiring a new police chief when Chappelle spoke Monday. “Now we are being policed by what feels like an alien force,” the comedian said.
“The council has a tremendous opportunity to be a leader in progressive law enforcement,” Chappelle said, by finding a candidate that matched Yellow Springs’ culture.
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