Race Matters, Friends Sends Open Letter RE: Violence at Local Protests

Dear Boone County Commissioners and Columbia City Council:

cc: Mr. Knight, Mr. Glascock, Chief Jones

We respectfully write to you with our concerns for justice and transparency, and hope you meet us with open minds.

On June 3, 2020, for the third time in less than a week, a man drove his car through
a group of protesters on the streets of Columbia. The vehicle assaults in Columbia
have now garnered national coverage as referenced in a June 2, 2020 Buzzfeed
article
that covers the increasing number of these assaults in 17 communities as of
the date of the publication. As of today, June 8, 2020, one week after the first of two other such incidents in which protesters were injured, the public has not been fully updated on the identification, charges, or arrests of the drivers.

Our organizations call upon the police to prioritize the arrests of any person(s) who use(s) a vehicle to intimidate or injure protesters - and complete transparency to the public about their response. These are two crucial steps to building community trust. We hold similar expectations of the prosecutors, that these individuals willing to endanger - and actively assault - our citizens be prosecuted for the serious breach of law and decency that it is.

We, the citizens of Columbia, should not be forced to choose between our safety and our right to peaceably assemble as provided for in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. Our organizations hold that without investigations, those who
oppose peaceful demonstration will be emboldened to commit further acts of violence. If intimidation or an assault with a vehicle occurs, our Police Department and City should make it unequivocally clear that they regard this act as an extremely serious violation, and that they will do everything in their power to protect protesters and hold those responsible accountable.

As Aliki Barnstone writes in the Missourian, June 5, 2020:
“If the perpetrators are not held accountable, more of them will be emboldened to ram their vehicles into peaceful protesters and, perhaps, kill someone. This is a concrete example of the way in which “silence is violence.”

We seek a direct response from you, our public officials, as well as routine public announcements, press releases, and/or press conferences as events unfold. Further, we ask for publicly visible discussion and responses as follows:

Columbia Police Department -- Please specifically address policies and protocols used to define and determine whether an incident such as we've seen are hit-and-run, vehicular assault, or hate-crime. Next, what do these policies and protocols dictate the police response to be? Lastly, given the current protest environment throughout the nation, we would like to know if when vehicles are used as weapons against protesters, does this qualify as a hate crime? What specifically qualifies as a hate crime?

We are profoundly concerned that the City of Columbia and Columbia Police Department did not publicly state that intimidation and harm to protesters will not be tolerated and that violators will be subject to arrest and prosecution. We call on you to inform the public immediately and fully, and to assert that incidents involving people who drive vehicles into protesters will be vigorously investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

We appreciate your prompt response to this exceedingly grave situation. Thank you.

Sincerely,

Race Matters, Friends

COMO for Progress

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