MLK celebrations end with panel discussion on police-community relations

Sunday, February 1, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 7:44 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

The final event of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebration, a panel discussion on police and community relations, was held on the second floor of the Reynolds Alumni and Visitors Center on the MU campus Friday afternoon.

Discussion focused on the history of civil rights and the relationship between minority communities and their local police departments.

Speakers at the panel were Columbia Police Department Capt. Marvin McCrary; Al Plummer, former executive director of the Missouri Commission on Human Rights; and former mayor of St. Louis, Clarence Harmon.

The discussion began with speakers describing their lives, experiences during the civil rights movement and how they achieved their positions of leadership. Speakers recounted what it was like watching the civil rights movement on television and then moving through their professional fields.

Plummer said that although the impact and changes that have occurred have been monumental, "there are no quick fixes for the kind of things we see rising on the horizon, because these are learned behaviors."

When questioned about the future of the police force in the next 30 years, all three panel members recognized that although there has been improvement, there is still a long way to go.

Harmon said he has seen many changes both as police chief and mayor, but there has been ground lost.

"When (Martin Luther King Jr.) died, what we saw was a stop of the whole momentum," Harmon said. "The movement wasn't destroyed, but it has been much more difficult to achieve goals."

McCrary said the biggest difficulty for the Columbia Police Department would be keeping up with the city.

"We don't have enough and it stresses the people doing the job," he said. "It's only going to get worse. You have to go on five-year plans and many goals won't be met. Mainly because of personnel."

Plummer took a different approach by reminding the audience of a little history, including the era of the Plessy v. Ferguson decision, from 1895 to 1954.

"There were 50 years where a concept was allowed to meander through society and pull us apart," he said. "We've approached social issues in this country with a stop-and-start mentality."

When one looks at issues related to civil rights, Plummer said, the commitment and leadership have to be there.

"If our leadership makes a commitment, we'll be much further down the road," he said, "but if our leadership doesn't make a commitment, we'll be a struggling nation."

Jermaine Reed, a sophomore at MU, said there were two reasons why he came to the forum.

"The first reason I came was because it was extra credit for class," he said. "As I was reading through the list, I thought the topic was a good thing to go to."

The issues discussed are relevant state-wide, Reed said.

But, he said, "I wish there were more discussions like this and more community people here."

McCrary said he learned many things by sitting and listening to the other speakers, and said he liked providing his experience.

"There's been a lot of change for the better," he said. "But there's a lot of work to be done."

Plummer said there are two possible problems in continuing the civil rights movement.

"Maybe we've done a poor job of transferring leadership in our community, number one, and, number two, providing education on how to use leadership," Plummer said.

Harmon said that all minority groups need to work together for improvement.

"We have a responsibility to continue the movement no matter the collective form or face it takes," he said.

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