COLUMBIA — People For A Taser-Free Columbia assembled Wednesday at City Hall to present more than 4,000 signatures to City Clerk Sheela Amin.
The group says it has enough signatures to get a Taser ban presented to the Columbia City Council. But before turning in the signatures, more than a dozen supporters gathered in the lobby of City Hall with signs expressing why they support a Taser-free Columbia.
“They’re only supposed to be used in situations where an officer would use a gun,” said Robin Acree, executive director of Grass Roots Organizing who was troubled by the way Tasers are currently used. Grass Roots Organizing was one of several organizations that endorsed the introduction of the petition.
Although the ordinance would ban the use of Tasers, the sale and possession of Tasers would still be legal.
Some of the supporters present at City Hall were also part of the volunteer team that collected signatures. Mary Hussmann, who helped lead the petition, emphasized that all the signature collectors were volunteers.
“These volunteers didn’t even get a free cup of coffee,” she said.
Robert Jackson Jr. and William E. Gene Robertson, both present at the gathering Wednesday, said they were concerned about the effects of Taser use on certain groups.
“One good recent reason (to ban Tasers) is the disproportional amount of African-Americans who are stopped by the police,” Robertson said, citing a report from the Missouri Attorney General's office released Tuesday. “We have more of an opportunity to get Tasered. It’s another side of the issue to look at.”
Jackson, one of the first people to sign the petition, said he represented those who have pre-existing health conditions that could result in fatal conditions if shot with a Taser. Jackson said he has had a heart attack that led to a massive stroke and feared if he were shot with a Taser, he would die.
Others worried about the Taser's effect on the community.
"Tasers don’t promote a healthy police and citizen relationship," Lily Tinker Fortel said.
After each supporter had voiced their opinions on the issue, the group climbed the stairs of the freshly renovated City Hall to present the petitions to Amin.
The petitions need at least 3,667 signatures — 20 percent of voters who submitted a ballot in the last mayoral election — from registered Columbia voters in order to be presented to the council.
Over the next 30 days, Amin and her staff will check each signature individually to make sure all residents who signed are registered voters of Columbia.
If the requirement of 3,667 valid signatures is not met, People For A Taser-Free Columbia will have 14 days to continue collecting signatures to try and reach its goal, according to city ordinances.
If a sufficient number of signatures is collected, the proposed ordinance will be presented to the council. If the council passes the ordinance, the ban would go into effect; if the ordinance fails, the ordinance would go on the ballot for the Nov. 2 election, Amin said.
Whether the council passes the ordinance, Hussmann and her supporters’ next move is to start the education process about Tasers.
“We understand this is a controversial issue. It’s going to take a lot of work, and we understand that,” Hussmann said.
“The purest form of democracy is to let people decide," she added.