New figures about traffic stops coupled with a recent police shooting in mid-Missouri’s Columbia has been a springboard for calls for action.
The community activist group Race Matters, Friends has called for the city’s police chief to be fired after a report from the Attorney General’s Office showed Columbia Police pull over African American people at a rate almost four times higher than white drivers.
Also, a city councilor sent an email to constituents calling for more scrutiny of the department’s use of force policy after an officer killed an African America man. Councilor Ian Thomas says his intention has not been to criticize the police force. “It was simply raising the opportunity for discussion about policy”.
Thomas contends he’s not suggesting the shooting was racially motivated, and says response to his email has been mostly positive.
“Some people have interpreted it as inflammatory or attacking the police. It certainly was not intended to do that, It was to raise legitimate policy issues that should be discussed, I believe.”
41-year-old Clarence Coats was shot by Columbia Police after he allegedly shot at them when they answered a call for an active shooter threatening people about two weeks ago.
Thomas’ email to constituents notes Coats’ mother said her son had suffered a nervous breakdown. He wants an explanation why shooting with the intent to disable an active shooter is not considered a good police practice, and believes it’s time for a public discussion about the policy for use of force.
“People want to know policies that police officers are working under. And they have a right to know, because they’re the tax payers. The people who are paying the taxes are the people who are essentially hiring the police officers.”
Earlier this week at the Columbia City Council meeting, the group Race Matters, Friends formalized its call for police chief Ken Burton to be fired. The organization’s Tracy 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.”
During the meeting, city councilors 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