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Dialogue helps bridge religious and cultural divides

It’s Wednesday night at the local mosque on the corner of Locust and Fifth Street.

Upstairs, in the prayer room, about 40 men of all ages stand next to each other in elbow-rubbing distance — all facing east toward Mecca, the holy city of Islam. They bend over, kneel, then prostrate, a process repeated several times. The women do the same in a separate room. When prayer ends, I shake hands with most of those present — a sign of respect and friendship.

Challenging God’s Existence

It is a mild Saturday morning in February when we meet at Hasan Askari’s Columbia home to talk about Islam. He is over 6 feet tall, lean, almost like a stick figure, with salt-and-pepper hair and a trim beard. He wears light brown slacks and a black collarless button-down shirt wrapped tight around his neck. The shadows under his eyes betray the few — if any — hours of sleep. He flew in late from Bethesda, Md., where he does research on strokes at the National Institutes of Health. He commutes about twice a month to spend the weekend with his family.

He sketches the world’s religions in my notebook.

Officer disciplined

Columbia police have taken disciplinary action against an officer who police said provided information that led to an unjustified break-up of a party in the 1000 block of Rogers Street on Feb. 12. But on Tuesday, Police Chief Randy Boehm denied allegations by some of the partygoers that officers used unnecessary force to make arrests, bringing a birthday party to an abrupt and disturbing halt.

Boehm said the disciplinary action stemmed from Columbia police Officer Alan Mitchell’s “improper conduct.” He refused to say whether the action against Mitchell was connected to partygoers’ complaints, citing the disciplinary action as a “personnel issue.”

Women planned to speak against Rios

Three women who came forward after former Columbia police Officer Steven Rios was implicated in the murder of 23-year-old MU student Jesse Valencia were prepared to testify in court that Rios sexually propositioned them while on duty.

Columbia Police Chief Randy Boehm said the three women came forward after police had identified Rios, 28, as a “person of interest” in the Valencia homicide investigation.

Protesters gain access to air show

Demonstrators plan to hand out yellow bookmarks printed with the Bill of Rights along with other leaflets at this weekend’s Memorial Day air show after a U.S. District Court ruling described by plaintiffs as a victory for the right to free speech.

“The opportunity for people to exercise their First Amendment rights at this event is going to be much greater,” said Columbia attorney Dan Viets.

The great curfew debate

For more than two years, Columbia officials, activists and parents have debated whether the city needs a curfew to help keep teenagers out of trouble, particularly during the summer months.

The Columbia City Council and Columbia Police Department strongly support a curfew, which was first proposed by First Ward Councilwoman Almeta Crayton in 1993. But the Columbia branch of the NAACP, which cites staunch opposition among central-city residents, has managed to keep the proposed ordinance off the books.

Teens offer curfew thoughts

Here’s what some teens who participate in after-school programs at the Columbia Boys & Girls Club think about the possibility of a citywide curfew.

Polls show cities split on curfews

Columbia is not the only Missouri city that has debated the effectiveness of curfews in recent years. Independence has a curfew ordinance and was featured in a national poll about curfews that was released last year.

The poll, by the National League of Cities, reported that Independence officials think parental ambivalence and lack of enforcement make their curfew ineffective.

Hazards of payday loans addressed

Dorothy Thomas said her sister was living paycheck-to-paycheck when rising heating bills prompted her to take out a payday loan.

The loan was attractive because it seemed “easy to borrow at the time,” Thomas said. When her sister’s financial situation worsened, it strained her ability to pay back the loan.

Marijuana operation alleged in Columbia

Columbia police discovered a marijuana-growing operation in a northeast Columbia house Sunday after being tipped off by a Columbia woman who said she’d been assaulted by a man who was growing marijuana, Columbia police Capt. Michael Martin said on Monday.

The 21-year-old woman said the man wouldn’t let her leave after she spurned his sexual advances at his home at 1901 Lovejoy Lane, Martin said. She escaped and ran to a neighbor’s house. The neighbor called police to report a trespassing after the woman refused to leave the house.

Lack of discipline way out of control

No matter how eager we all might be to firm up our summer program, we have to admire Mother Nature’s way of playing weather games to let us know who’s boss. I barely get a fistful of new flowers planted before the temperature takes a downward plunge and I have to consider whether to cover my new efforts with plastic. At this writing, I haven’t had any casualties, but this is Missouri and so there’s time for surprises.

Watching chaos unfold in Washington, D.C., during the terrorist scare a couple of weeks ago should have reminded us again about the necessity for maintaining community preparedness. The capacity of people to panic and endanger their lives others in times of crisis, I think, cannot be overstated. We witness this on television time after time during natural and manmade disasters. Still, I don’t notice any advertising campaigns or billboards on the highways stressing the importance of self-discipline in these troubled times when almost anything can happen at any time.

Gasoline pipeline spills into Mo. River

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — A pipeline break near a Board of Public Utilities electric plant in Kansas City, Kan., early Monday caused a gasoline leak that spilled into the Missouri River.

Don Denney, spokesman for the joint government of Kansas City, Kan., and Wyandotte County, estimated that about 18,750 gallons of gasoline escaped before the leak in a line belonging to Magellan Midstream Partners of Tulsa, Okla., was stopped. He said the break was a couple of thousand feet from the river and the fuel flowed down into the water.

Critic of space weapons to speak

A former leader and subsequent critic of the “Star Wars” space weapons program will be in Columbia this week to talk about patriotism.

Robert M. Bowman’s presentation Thursday is part of a 28-state tour and is sponsored by MU Friends of Peace Studies, Columbia Peace Coalition, Mid-Missouri Peaceworks, Global Action to Prevent War, and Veterans for Peace.

Man uses lamp to scare burglars

Four people — at least two of them armed with handguns — ran away with nothing to show for their efforts after a Columbia man scared them out of his house by threatening them with a lamp, Boone County Sheriff’s Capt. Gary German said Monday. Boone County sheriff’s deputies arrested one Columbia man, detained two male juveniles and were searching for a third juvenile in connection with the home invasion, which happened about 2:30 p.m. Sunday in the 200 block of West Havens Drive in north-central Boone County, German said. The four men entered the house through an unlocked door ...

Heeding the call to help

When MU senior Emily Angle started thinking about life after graduation, she saw a poster advertising Teach for America. The program recruits new college graduates to teach for two years in urban and rural schools across the nation to help make public education more equitable.

“I think I was drawn to it when I was sitting down trying to decide what to do after graduation, and I realized every activity I’ve done here involved teaching,” Angle said. “I saw a flier for Teach for America and decided I wanted to learn more about it.”

Family sport

The rink was built, the lights came on, and the players came.

Ten years ago, John Briggs dreamed of having an in-line skating league and rink in Hallsville. With the help of best friend Bruce Jones and many others, that dream became a reality.

Blunt special session to echo Holden’s

JEFFERSON CITY — On the last day of the legislative session in his first year in office, the governor proclaimed that he had achieved a nearly complete success in passing priority legislation.

When lawmakers adjourned in May, the governor immediately said he would call a September special session so that lingering priority could pass.

Crackdown on human trafficking continues

ST. LOUIS — Human trafficking doesn’t usually come to mind as a crime that might affect St. Louis or eastern Missouri. But experts say it does exist here, albeit buried very deeply.

“The minute you start talking about it, individuals in the community will say, ‘I may know somebody who may be a victim,’ ” said Suzanne LeLaurin, vice president of the International Institute, a refugee resettlement agency. “The victims are so controlled by traffickers, it’s difficult to find them until you start doing assertive outreach and investigation.

Struggle and Surrender

Maaz Maqbool, an MU student, started high school in downtown Manhattan, a few blocks away from the World Trade Center plaza. “My friends and I would frequently go there to the underground mall and to the Plaza between the towers,” says Maqbool, who has lived in Columbia since 1999. “I remember distinctly lying on a bench in the plaza and staring up at the towers, which gave me a sensation of

vertigo.”

Ex-cop to serve life for murder

After nine hours of deliberation over two days, a jury found former Columbia police Officer Steven Rios guilty of first-degree murder and armed criminal action Saturday morning in the June 2004 slaying of 23-year-old Jesse Valencia.

The murder conviction carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison with no possibility of parole. The 12-person jury also sentenced Rios to 10 years in prison for armed criminal action. Circuit Judge Ellen Roper could add to that sentence when Rios appears at a final disposition scheduled for July 5.

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