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Police officers and residents come together for dinner, discussion

Friday, April 27, 2012 | 9:47 p.m. CDT; updated 10:52 a.m. CDT, Monday, April 30, 2012
The Rev. George Coleman Sr. laughs while talking with Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton during the "Building A Better Community Eat and Greet" held Friday evening at Second Baptist Church. Burton said he thought it was a great idea to have an event where police officers could interact with community members "without a crisis."

COLUMBIA — When Columbia Police and community members met Friday evening, they weren't discussing residents'  crimes or officers' faults. 

Instead, they talked about soccer practice and Thursday night's Miami Heat game while snacking on appetizers. Their children laughed and played with each other. 

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The two groups gathered in the annex of the Second Baptist Church for the first "Building a Better Community Eat and Greet," hosted by the Bias Free Columbia Coalition. The program offered police officers and residents an opportunity to socialize.

Amid the chatter and laughter, there was a sense of calmness, understanding and hope for change.  

The evening began with brief introductions of several coalition members, most of whom serve on other human rights organizations in the city. The group then did an ice-breaker activity. They had to find people with whom they had something in common — the same number of siblings or a shared travel experience, for example. Throughout the rest of the evening, informal conversation flowed. 

The conversation echoed a common theme: humanity. 

"We're both people," said Steve Monticelli, deputy chief of the Columbia Police Department. He talked about how much police wanted to spend time with community members.  

Donald Love, a member of the Missouri Association for Social Welfare, said the night was about networking. He thought an evening get-together was much better than a lecture could ever be.

"Those don't always work," he said. "There's no dialogue there."

Although the evening was full of laughter, there was a serious purpose behind it. The goal was to make people comfortable talking about issues. 

Carmen Williams, pastor at a Christian Methodist Episcopal church, said she saw the evening as a chance for police and community members to come together in a low-pressure environment — usually the only interaction between the two groups is in times of crisis. 

"What I hope can happen as a result of this is that people see that Police Chief Ken Burton is doing the best he can with what he has," she said. "Through this effort, he's doing positive things to improve our community." 

Although the event was well-attended, Williams also said she wished more minority community members had come.  

For Mary Ratliff, president of the local chapter of the NAACP, the evening was chance to create relationships and build trust — two things that are lacking in Columbia, specifically between the black community and the police.  

"The fact is, racial profiling is an issue, one that we have not seen a decrease in," she said. "What we need to do is develop and foster a relationship between people — officers, residents, families — and then we can see some good things happen.”

Nancy Browning, a professor emeritus of cultural diversity studies at Lincoln University, pointed out tensions and bias toward several communities — not only the black community but also women and homosexuals.   

"This meeting is about recognizing biases," she said. "Everyone has them. We're human. We just need to dialogue and be aware. I want a bias-free everything."


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Comments

Gary Straub April 28, 2012 | 9:35 a.m.

Kudos for the coalition getting this dialogue started. Groups can not get together if they both keep to their side of the room. As long as the perception exists that 'they' are not us then suspicions are formed. We will never have a good relationship with the police and they with us until we can see each other as part of the community. I wish there were more foot patrols, especially in problem areas, so those who live in the neighborhood and the police can become well acquainted, which could only lead to more positive interaction, and a safer community. After all we ARE all in this together.

(Report Comment)
Delcia Crockett April 29, 2012 | 6:30 a.m.

@"Throughout the rest of the evening, informal conversation flowed. The conversation echoed a common theme: humanity."

Excellent!

Now, we are getting somewhere!

Exactly what Columbia needs!

Amen!

(Report Comment)
Delcia Crockett April 29, 2012 | 6:34 a.m.

@"What I hope can happen as a result of this is that people see that Police Chief Ken Burton is doing the best he can with what he has," she said. "Through this effort, he's doing positive things to improve our community."

Amen!

Have never met the Chief, but have seen enough evidence of what he stands for revealed in the tough decisions he has made, to know that he is the answer to all our prayers, and - most definitely- the "Man of the Hour" in this crisis of growth our city has taken.

May we soon get the 42 additional officers and sub-stations in our community that the Chief has stated our town needs.

God bless.

Amen.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams April 29, 2012 | 10:15 a.m.

Delcia: "What I hope can happen as a result of this is that people see that Police Chief Ken Burton is doing the best he can with what he has..."
__________________________

I don't view that comment by Carmen as very helpful.

After all, change the context around to the neighborhood itself and say, "They're doing the best they can with what they have."

Which, of course, is a subtle and negative statement about the quality of the neighborhood....as in, "They can't help themselves....look at what they have to work with."

If you lived in that neighborhood and someone made that statement, how would you feel ("you" is generic here)? Unfortunately, the statement has the effect of further alienating the Chief from his officers.

(Report Comment)

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