Yellow Springs, OH, is a town of 3,487-or-so people, one of whom is Dave Chappelle. The comedian also spent a part of his childhood in the community — he’d visit during summers while his father was teaching at Antioch College, the institution for which the hippie town of Yellow Springs (the New York Times calls it “a blue speck in the conservative sea of southwest Ohio”) is best known. Stories that’ve emerged from Chappelle’s time there as an adult show him hosting local shows in barns; hosting Bradley Cooper; and now, as the Washington Post points out, speaking out at city council meetings against aggressive policing.
Chappelle attended a recent meeting — a video of which can be seen below — to address an incident that happened in the very earliest hours of 2017, garnering covering first in the local press and later in the New York Times. It took place at an annual New Year’s Eve party, wherein a crowd gathers in the center of town to watch a disco ball get lowered to the pavement. Usually, police allow residents to hang out for a while after the Times Square-emulating spectacle, but this year they began to break up the celebration minutes after the ball had dropped, and their tactics were more invasive than they’d been in the past: they began driving their cruisers through the crowd, with their lights and horns on. Then, a number of people approached the police to ask why they were being so stringent so abruptly. Per the Times:
One of those people was David Carlson, 29. The police say a drunken Mr. Carlson, who is black, had been swearing at the officers, threatening them and striking their car. There was no evidence to suggest that Mr. Carlson was being disruptive like that, one of his lawyers, Jon Paul Rion, said. An officer eventually hopped out of his car and slammed Mr. Carlson to the ground. Chaos ensued. Mr. Carlson got away, and officers chased him. One tried to use a Taser on him, and a crowd of mostly white residents tried to shield him.
The incident, as the Times article expresses, illuminated a typical difference in perspective between the town’s white progressive majority and its residents of color: many white people were shocked that racism existed in their liberal enclave, while there was, of course, less surprise among the town’s black population, who’d either experienced racial police profiling firsthand, or heard of various stories about it from people close to them. “In the consensus over the need for less aggressive policing, there were subtle differences in perspective,” per the Times. “White residents were complaining largely about the officers’ violation of social norms in a laid-back town, while black residents focused on what they saw as a racially biased force that targets them regularly.”
After a village council meeting where masses of residents huddled into a gym, the police chief offered his resignation, apparently to cheers. Which brings us back to Dave Chappelle. Following all of this, the comedian showed up at the later meeting, expressing that he’d gone home early on the night of New Year’s Eve, but was compelled to talk about the “huge gaffe,” and emphasizing how the resignation of the police chief is an opportunity to bring change to the way the town’s been policed of late.
“I know two occasions where [the Yellow Springs police] protected my personal wellbeing… so I appreciate that,” Chappelle began, before turning to the gaffe. The comedian brought up the above-mentioned Times article, noting how the story had spread largely given national conversations in the Trump era. He continued, calling for a police force that mirrors the progressive nature of the town:
Given what the culture of our town is like, the council has a tremendous opportunity to be a leader in progressive law enforcement. Now we’re being policed by what feels like an alien force… I would beseech the council to look deeply and look hard…This is a golden opportunity to me — literally we could kill the game — in this Trump era, this is an opportunity to show everybody that local politics reigns supreme. We can make our corner of the world outstanding. So I’m begging you to find a candidate that matches the culture of this town.
Read Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah’s 2013 Believer piece about “searching for Dave Chappelle [in Yellow Springs] ten years after he left his show.”