Wednesday, April 26, 2006
BEING BLACK IN COLUMBIA, MISSOURI
Columbia, Missouri is the home of the University of Missouri.
Columbia, Missouri has a long and tarnished history of racism.
Columbia, Missouri's African American residents, many of them from the city’s First Ward, have long expressed dissatisfaction with a city they characterize as divided, unjust and unresponsive to their needs. The list of complaints include double-digit unemployment, high arrest rates for black juveniles, lack of spending on recreation and social development in the First Ward and high dropout rates.
Many say they have been victims of police profiling and the unnecessary use of force during vehicle stops or searches.
In fact, Columbia police made 13,569 traffic stops in 2005. Of the drivers, 74 percent were white, and 21 percent were black. Of the white drivers stopped, 8 percent were subjected to searches. Nineteen percent of the black drivers were subjected to searches.
Columbia’s population is about 82 percent white and 9 percent black.
And guess what, studies have found the percentage of total searches in which contraband was found was slightly higher among whites.
The first article below comes from the Columbia Tribune. The following article comes from the Missourian.
Local blacks allege police discriminate
Columbia attorney David Tyson Smith said police overreacted earlier this year when they wrestled his client to the floor and handcuffed her while trying to contain a disturbance at Columbia Mall.
Alva Scott was doing what any mother would do when faced with a threatening situation, Smith said. She was trying to protect her children.
During a regular monthly meeting last night of the Columbia chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, residents told a U.S. Department of Justice official such overreaction by some Columbia police officers toward black people is a growing concern and not an isolated problem.
"We are not trying to prevent police from doing what they have to do," said Mary Ratliff, president of the local chapter of the NAACP. "But we’re tired of talking about the problem. We want something done. … When are we going to start fighting for the rights of our people?"
About 25 people attended the meeting with Tom Meade, a member of the Community Relations Service of the justice department, who said he came to listen and gather information.
"We are not a law enforcement agency," Meade said. "We don’t prosecute or find fault."
Ratliff said she invited Meade to the meeting because she has received a growing number of complaints about racial profiling by some Columbia police officers. Among the worst, she said, was the treatment of Scott during the mall incident. "This is unacceptable," Ratliff said.
Smith said his client was shopping at the mall with her children when she heard about a disturbance in the Café Court. Worried about her teenage son and his friend, who were in the area, Scott hurried with her 2- and 8-year-olds to the Café Court to retrieve the boys, Smith said.
When she reached the area, Scott spotted the boys and received permission from a mall security guard to enter and retrieve them, Smith said. But when she started toward the boys, Scott was stopped by a Columbia police officer, who pushed her toward an exit, Smith said.
"He told her she had to leave," he said. "Alva said she had to get her kids. He told her she had to leave, and if she didn’t, she would be arrested for trespassing."
However, Scott’s two younger children were still waiting for her, and she pleaded with the officer to let her get her children, Smith said. That’s when the officer threw her to the floor and handcuffed her, Smith said. The teenage son and his friend also were handcuffed.
Scott was taken to the police department and charged with trespassing, assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest - her first encounter ever with police, Smith said. "If it can happen to her, it can happen to anybody," he said.
To make matters worse, Smith said, his client has been asked by the prosecutor’s office to write a letter of apology to police and has been banned for three years from the mall.
"Her child has had nightmares about this," he said. "She came into my office and broke down and cried. She was hurt, but it’s more than that. It was an assault of her dignity."
Bessie Smith of Columbia, whose son was with Scott’s son that evening, said even though police have told her they dropped charges against her son, she is worried the incident could still show up on his record. "It’s wrong for police officers to make that kind of mistake," Smith said.
Columbia Police Chief Randy Boehm said he was aware of the meeting last night but was not invited to attend. He said his department is conducting a "supervisory review of the officer’s action" in the Scott case.
"As far as an increase in incidents, I have not seen that," Boehm said. "We have not received more complaints about our officers. I think our officers continue to do a very professional job.
"On occasion, do we have an officer who could have handled a situation better? Absolutely, and we try to correct that behavior," he said.
NAACP voices concerns on racial profiling
Members of the Columbia chapter of the NAACP met with a representative of the U.S. Department of Justice on Tuesday night in an early effort to take action in response to several complaints regarding police brutality and racial profiling involving the Columbia Police Department. The meeting was called after several black citizens of the community voiced concern over various incidents.
Tom Meade, a member of the Community Relations Service of the Justice Department, came to the meeting to hear the cases and information presented by Mary Ratliff, the president of the Columbia chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and other members of the community. Ratliff said she called the meeting after observing an increased frequency in what she referred to as racial profiling.
Meade said his goal is to examine racial problems and to represent the black community’s concerns by coming up with solutions in accordance with the Police Department. He suggested doing this by creating forums, and examining and possibly improving police diversity training. However, he pointed out that the Community Relations Service does not prosecute or assign fault in legal situations.
Ratliff questioned Columbia Police Chief Randy Boehm’s leadership in the Police Department.
“There have been so many incidents within the past few years that I wonder about his leadership,” she said. “I keep getting the same response that he recognizes that the department has some officers with questionable behavior. But if he knows he has officers like that, why isn’t he getting rid of them? It costs everyone for the mistakes they’re making.”
Ratliff emphasized several individual cases of police brutality and racial profiling involving the Police Department.
Meade will meet with city officials to bring racial issues to light and to take action to examine racial profiling. If these actions don’t help, the next step would be an investigation by the Justice Department. People at the meeting agreed that action to stop police brutality and racial profiling must start immediately.
“The hurt, pain and humiliation of these people trying to do the right thing tears my heart apart,” Ratliff said. “When are we going to come together as a community and fight for the rights of our people? I hope this is the beginning.”