A series of town hall meetings organized by First Ward City Councilwoman Almeta Crayton will aim to both listen to and address complaints of discrimination in Columbia.
Crayton hopes to get people from outside the community who can help make changes to attend the forums. She said she would work this month to find the right people to hear the complaints and collect evidence of mistreatment and discrimination in the workplace and community to see if further action can be taken.
“I’m writing letters to state and federal offices and the justice department so they can come and hear and document what has been happening,” Crayton said.
What to expect
She said the meeting will be open to the public. Individuals will have two minutes to describe their situation and get advice about what to do next.
“People are being abused,” Crayton said. “Things are going on that need to be fixed.”
The meetings will be at St. Luke United Methodist Church. The Rev. Raymond Hayes said the church is often used for these types of activities.
“As long as the meeting is issue-oriented and not candidate-oriented, we’re fine with discussions like this,” Hayes said. “And this is very clearly about an issue.”
Hayes said that meetings like this have been going on for a long time and that the increased attention and complaints are due to the actions of Crayton and the climate of society right now.
“I think people are frustrated about what is going on in the economy and other things in the country,” he said. “Since it’s an election year, that’s triggering more involvement.”
Lana Jacobs of St. Francis House, a shelter, attended the latest forum, held March 18, and said she would attend the next one because of the importance of the issues being examined.
“There isn’t really any place where people can go to talk about these issues,” Jacobs said. “Now, Ms. Crayton has created somewhere people can come, somewhere that tells them their voice does matter.”
One area of concern is government funding of social service programs and nonprofit organizations. Jacobs said many of those who attended the previous forum complained that the money isn’t actually getting to the city’s poorest residents.
“There are hardly any services that we know of that reach the poorest of the poor,” Jacobs said. “Part of the issue is that society has a paternal view of the poor, and this makes it seem that the white middle class knows best.”
Forty to 50 people attended the latest forum, which sparked a protest about discrimination the following day at the Dollar General Store at Business Loop 70 West and Garth Avenue. Jacobs said other complaints included police harassment and employee mistreatment at local retail stores.
Columbia Police Chief Randy Boehm said he is unaware of complaints about the police because the department wasn’t invited to the meeting. He said the department would attend meetings in the future if invited, but he didn’t think people should wait for a forum like this if they have a problem with the police.
“It’s very simple to file a complaint,” he said. “People can come in, call us, write to us or e-mail us, and we thoroughly investigate all complaints.”