Comedian Dave Chappelle is a familiar presence in the small rural Ohio village where he’s long made his home, but even his neighbors might have been surprised when he showed up at a town meeting Monday, taking his turn at the public podium to urge the village council to show the “Trump-era” world that local politics can take a leading role in improved policing.
“Huge gaffe on New Year’s Eve,” Chappelle said, getting a few chuckles by stretching out that “huge.” Dressed in a black leather jacket with a green hoodie, Chappelle addressed the Yellow Spring, Ohio, village council about a holiday incident that sparked a front-page story in The New York Times: “A black suspect on the ground, roughed up by white police officers as an angry crowd looked on,” as The Times wrote on February 6.
The New Year’s Eve incident, in which police used a cruiser to send the crowd scattering, caused an uproar in the usually quiet, longtime liberal village. The town’s police chief resigned, and the council is now looking for a replacement.
Chappelle grew up in – and then returned to – Ohio’s Democratic enclave of Yellow Springs, long home to the progressive Antioch College. The village’s left-leaning, activist culture and generally peaceful, woodsy setting made the New Year’s Eve tackling and arrest of an African American man during an annual outdoor holiday celebration all the more newsworthy.
During Monday’s public discussion of the incident, Chappelle first commended the local police department with protecting “my personal well-being, unsolicited” on two occasions. “So I appreciate that,” he said, then implored the village “to be a leader in progressive law enforcement.”
Chappelle described the village’s longtime but fading sense of familiarity and cohesion with the police department – “his sister was my music teacher,” he said about one officer in days gone by, and noted that Yellow Springs residents grew up with other officers’ children – Chappelle lamented changing times.
“Now we’re being policed by what feels like an alien force,” Chappelle said. The comedian said he was at the New Year’s Eve celebration with his children and friends, but “left early because no one felt completely right. So I am trying to be balanced and fair.”
“In all fairness,” he says at one point, “the crowd was drunk.”
Chappelle used the opportunity to encourage his neighbors and village officials to take advantage of “a golden opportunity” to find a new police chief who reflects the town’s “unique” culture.
“I would beseech the council to look deeply and look hard, because this is a golden opportunity,” he says, adding, “In this Trump era, here’s an opportunity to show everybody that local politics reigns supreme. We could make our corner of the world outstanding. I’m just begging you to find a candidate that matches the culture of this town, which is incredibly unique, which is renowned for being incredibly unique.”