Columbia's violence task force discusses public forum, racial profiling

Wednesday, March 12, 2014 | 9:50 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — The Mayor's Task Force on Community Violence outlined future projects while continuing a discussion on racial profiling Wednesday night.

Wednesday's discussion began when John French, a member of the Columbia Library District Board of Trustees, talked about his experience with racial profiling.

French, who is black, said he went to Moser's Discount Food after a work conference and was followed by a security guard who had a hand on his weapon the entire time. French saw white people entering the store who were not followed by the guard.

He said he is concerned that if he is being profiled, then other blacks — especially youth — might be receiving worse treatment. This was French's first task force meeting, but he said he was impressed with how in-depth the group went into addressing issues related to community violence.

"As the city grows, these issues grow almost exponentially," French said. "We need to get out in front of them to form positive interactions with the community."

Task force member David Thomas shared a profiling story that was told to him recently, and said the issue of profiling must be addressed by the task force.

"We're dealing with a racial situation here, and half of us don't know what it is," Thomas said, referring to the task force's racial composition. "It's illegal for there to be discrimination, but that's what we're talking about, right here in Columbia."

Public forums

The task force also laid the foundation for community public forums called "Let's Talk About Violence." Michael Trapp, Second Ward councilman and Task Force co-chair, said members want to give people an opportunity to be involved in solving the problem of community violence in a non-city hall setting.

Members plan to set up three meetings: one held for students during the day at Hickman High School, one held in the evening for parents at the Armory Sports & Recreation Center, and one held for both students and parents at a different high school.

Dates for the public forums have not been finalized.

Work session

Final details about the task force's work session were also decided. Members will share the data they have been gathering for the past seven months to foster discussion on local conditions that perpetuate community violence.

They will then create a process for forming recommendations and evaluating programs. After the process is solidified, members will discuss their immediate recommendations.

The task force will meet again on March 26 to hear a report about the progress of the youth activity surveys they sent out in December.

Supervising editor is Elise Schmelzer.

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