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.
Race Matters, Friends
COMO for Progress
Race Matters Friends Responds to Vehicle Stop Report (2019 data)
On May 29, 2020, the Missouri Attorney General’s Office released its annual vehicle stops report (VSR), which, according to the office, “breaks down the data as it relates to race, number of stops, search rate, contraband hit rate, arrest rate, and more.
According to the data, racial disparities for Columbia, Boone County, and the State of MIssouri have increased yet again in 2019. The Attorney General states that data collection in 2020 will assist analysis of the identity of drivers for next year, acknowledging that the drivers of increasing racial disparities cannot be concluded by collecting data.
The summary remains focused, as is local law enforcement, on the inability to discern the intent of individual police officers and only measures the increasing disparity.
● Columbia Police Chief Geoffrey Jones “…promised accountability within his department and to work towards change .” (Columbia Missourian, 1 June 2020) ● Mayor Brian Treece: “It’s our responsibility to break down systems of institutional racism .” (Columbia Tribune, 1 June 2020)
However, Race Matters, Friends asks:
● Where is the accountability? ● Where and how is the City of Columbia breaking down institutional racism in the criminal justice system and in local policing?
We see no evidence of either, particularly while known anti-black officers are still employed in the department. We are not getting any answers.
Adjustments were made to disparity rates to reflect population changes from 2014 going forward (using population estimates from the American Community Survey). While the disparity rates are lower in each of those years, they are only slightly so, and do not change the overall trend.
These disparity rates indicate that in 2018, Black drivers were 4.32 times more likely to be stopped than white drivers in Columbia. While disparity rates have increased over time for Black drivers, they have declined slightly for white drivers.
Black drivers are more likely to be searched during stops, while contraband was found at only slightly higher rates for Black drivers. The 2019 contraband hit rate for white drivers was 45.75 and 50.05 for black drivers.
In Columbia, traffic stops are used as investigative tools as much, if not more than, for traffic enforcement. Columbia’s traffic stop disparities are a direct result of choices in policing strategy.
Police stop Black drivers (commonly referred to as “hot-spot policing") in the hopes that they will stumble across a suspect or a driver carrying contraband such as a weapon, drugs and alcohol, or stolen property.
We believe this practice is the equivalent of searching for a needle in a haystack, which results in devastating consequences for our community.
The figure below was taken from an August 19, 2019 presentation by RMF member Tara Warne-Griggs to Columbia's Vehicle Stop Committee. Itshows the impact in terms of arrests and contraband found.
The VSR continues to ignore the fact that the data consistently reflects the systemic racism of state, county, and local laws. While implicit bias is widely recognized as a factor affecting the discretion of individual officers, the broader impact of policies and procedures on minority drivers who are ever increasingly impacted by law enforcement are not addressed.
While the role of individual officers’ unconscious (i.e. implicit) bias and their choices are certainly factors for which all law enforcement agencies are morally responsible, the continued deflection away from the inequitable burden of non-white citizens in contact with law enforcement further perpetuates the larger systemic disparities of racism.
RMF's Call to Action:
We have drastically restructured our volunteer and membership drive and management processes. The responses generated from the uptake form serve as a robust tool from which to quickly sort and cull a list of specific volunteers for specific events and projects.
Since the onset of our campaign for community policing, RMF has consistently demanded accountability on tax dollars spent and invested in the Columbia Police Department (CPD).
We know that two-thirds of the City of Columbia’s budget is spent on public safety, the lion's share of which is policing. This leaves a miniscule sum (1.8% of the General Fund) available to the City/County health and human services department, where per capita spending has not increased since 1980.
We demand that an increasing amount of the city budget be diverted away from activities that harm our most vulnerable citizens and directed toward resources that will help them.
At 1.8 percent of our city’s budget, Public Health and Human Services (PHHS) displays how little we are protecting and valuing our least advantaged citizens. While funds given to social services are contingent on measuring the impact of those services, the police department is not accountable for the value that we receive in return for allocating the majority of our tax dollars to their support.
The historical and inequitable return in investment that continues to unfairly allocate the majority of our tax dollars to CPD needs to be interrupted.
We insist and demand an increase in per capita spending that meets today’s (2020) needs and beyond, that responsibly invests in health and human services.
In our view, the ever-increasing expenditures on defensive policing continue to produce an array of disparate outcomes and impacts on our citizens of color whose needs as a community have been historically neglected by political priorities that target the most privileged members of our city.
The City of Columbia must do better, and the time is NOW.
African Americans in Columbia are less transient than the white population here. The ancestors of today’s African American Columbians built the campuses of The University of Missouri, Columbia College, and Stephens College under the oppression of slavery. Although a minority of our population, they have historically invested capital in Columbia to a greater extent than most white citizens living in Columbia today.
What do we owe them to restore and repair decades of social exclusion, neglect and political antipathy?
In closing, RMF is still awaiting responses from Chief Jones, the Mayor and Council from our March 2, 2020 letter of concerns, with the full understanding that the COVID-19 pandemic has been a setback for everyone in terms of timelines.
We remain ready to #do.the.work!
About Race Matters, Friends
Race Matters, Friends is a non-profit 501(c)3 organization dedicated to anti-racism education, community consciousness-raising, and social equity.
Since 2015, the group has been a persistent advocate for Community-Oriented Policing.
We, the citizens, are the power structure, and have the capacity and ability to re-imagine a just, equitable, and safe future for Columbia.
CPD Officer Faces Discipline for Wrongful Arrest at Smithton Middle School
I think it is appropriate and welcome that Chief Jones made his decision public. We should also understand that these kinds of outcomes are attributable to decisions made by management.
I personally don't support one SRO serving six middle schools for free, partially paid, or for a substantive contract service delivery amount. I object to arresting kids on the whims of school officials' use of hearsay and no investigative effort, not to mention zero conflict resolution effort. I'm not sold at all that SROs provide any kind of better or safe environment for students, particularly students of color.
So -- in a world where kids are a real priority, Dr. Stiepleman would have already jointly apologized with Chief Jones and told the community that they would work together to make sure this doesn't happen again. This would include reviewing their lack of following procedure and protocol and collaboratively developing restorative practice tools rooted in anti-racism. Public apologies are perfect for building trust and so is the kind of transparency that recognizes unforced errors that cause material impact and harm.
Race Matters, Friends is calling for Carla London's resignation because she should have been in front of this issue, supporting her principal, and providing guidance and demanding accountability. Instead, she attempted to marginalize the student and her family as problematic.
CPS has taken no responsibility for their poor judgment and lack of restorative practice when complaints of harassment were made We've seen London's rude apathy too often among administrators towards parents and reports of harassment, bullying, and conflict, and the denials need to stop too.
If the Chief Equity Officer can't manage a serious crisis like this and do it publicly to maintain and build public trust in her office, IMHO, she's unqualified for the job. Is the CPS board awake?
NAACP, Columbia Police continue to discuss definition of community policing
In years of discussions about community policing, two competing concerns tend to arise: Does the Columbia Police Department need to change the way it thinks about and practices community policing? Or does the department need increased funding to hire more officers? More officers would mean more time devoted to forging connections in neighborhoods, the argument goes.
At an NAACP meeting on Tuesday, Sgt. Robert Fox, the department’s new leader on community policing, said that while resources are still needed, the department should still focus on how it practices community policing. To be successful, the department needs to prioritize collaboration within the community, he said
“Generally, people are talking about philosophy within the department,” Fox said. “If the department is oriented towards working in partnership, problem-solving, etc., that would be community-oriented policing.”
About 25 people, including three members of the Columbia City Council, gathered at the meeting at Second Baptist Church to talk to Fox about community policing, the success of the Community Outreach Unit and use of force by officers. City Manager Mike Matthes, Police Chief Ken Burton, and Columbia NAACP President Mary Ratliff were also in attendance.
However, not all attendees were satisfied with Fox’s discussion.
“You haven’t defined community policing,” one attendee said. “You haven’t defined its goals and you certainly haven’t defined its overall principles.”
Matthes said Fox’s role is to figure out what community policing should look like in Columbia.
“We’re not going to tell you what community policing is,” he said. Defining effective community policing should come from the community, he said.
However, discussions regarding how to define community policing have been happening in Columbia for several years, starting with recommendations from the Mayor’s Task Force on Community Violence in 2014. The City Council called for a public review of community policing in February 2017 and passed a resolution to bring about a public conversation on how to move forward. Fox was appointed this past February.
Attendees also emphasized that the department’s Community Outreach Unit officers should be active players in efforts to adopt community-oriented policing. Attendees said the unit’s work has been important within the neighborhoods they work. Fox said one of the first meetings he had after being appointed to the position was a question-and-answer session with the Community Outreach Unit to ask them about their experiences.
Fox is working to prepare a report on community policing, as requested by the City Council, and he hopes to reach out to community members to inform his writing of the report. However, when a community member asked for a timeline for when community policing would be implemented, Fox was not able to specify. He said he has no authority in the implementation of community policing.
“This report I’m working on goes back to the council,” he said. “From there on, it becomes a lot more vague.”
He said the report has to be submitted to the council by the Aug. 31 deadline, but that community policing could take years to implement, based on what he’s seen from other cities’ efforts.
Attendees at the meeting also raised concern with what they see as the use of force within the Columbia Police department. They objected to the way the SWAT team deals with high-intensity situations, such as drug raids.
Police Chief Ken Burton responded that there is no “use-of-force problem” within the department and that policies are in place to make sure officers’ responses to situations are appropriate. But, when an NAACP member referred to certain videos to back up claims of use-of-force, Burton said it was just an “opinion” that force was used in those situations.