Columbia civil rights activists want the police chief fired. Several citizens spoke at Monday night’s council meeting about what they feel is a lack of progress when it comes to how African-Americans are treated during traffic stops. Tracy Wilson-Kleekamp of Race Matters, Friends said Ken Burton needs to be more up-front about the issue.
“The Chief denies his own data,” said Wilson-Kleekamp. “He denies people to their face of their experiences, and we’re kind of sick of it.”
A report last week from the state attorney general found that Columbia Police were at least three times more likely to pull over African-Americans than their white counterparts last year.
Wilson-Kleekamp said Burton is not doing enough to acknowledge the role race plays in policing.
“If we were doing community-oriented policing we wouldn’t be having this conversation, because he’d be doing his job,” Wilson-Kleekamp said. “Apparently he can’t do it, doesn’t know how to do it and when he opens his mouth, he says something stupid.”
The council’s only black member, Clyde Ruffin, weighed in on the issue.
“It’s difficult the quantity but the issue of driving while black is a reality that many times it is an alleged moving violation but not an actual a moving violation,” said Ruffin. “It’s simply a stop because of race.”
Not everyone who spoke during public comment was against Burton. The Rev. James Gray said he saw officers in tears while trying to help an injured person he knew, and a move against Burton is a push against them.
“They work their butts off,” Gray said.
The city council asked City Manager Mike Matthes for more info on the traffic stop inequality, and why the numbers have not improved in recent years.
Brad Tregnago of KSSZ contributed to the story