On Monday, my daughter, Zoë Barnstone-Clark, was among protesters on the corner of Broadway and Providence. She witnessed a black sedan drive into the crowd and hit a protester. That night, another protester was also hit.
Given that there were hundreds of people there who were documenting this attempted murder and that there was a large police presence, I find it appalling that no arrests have been made and that the police have “identified no suspects.” The fact that these criminals were not arrested on the spot is already puzzling at best, but it’s beyond comprehension that it’s been four days, and the police still haven’t done their jobs.
BuzzFeed News and the Missourian published a photo of the sedan in which two characters of the license plate, “H5,” are clearly visible, and part of the Ford logo is also visible. I would think these clues would be enough, and even if they weren’t, with all those witnesses and documentation, there surely is a witness who remembers or a frame that shows the full license plate. I can’t help but ask the obvious: Are the police incompetent, unmotivated or in league with white supremacists who have made their weapon of choice driving cars into protesters? (They did apprehend a third driver who intended to drive into the protesters and charged him with “imprudent and careless driving.”)
Like other university towns, Columbia is targeted by white supremacists. The alarming historical resonance of these incidents with the murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, Virginia, should have prompted the police department, our elected city officials and MU to make public statements specifically condemning these racist acts of violence against our citizens and community. If the perpetrators are not held accountable, more of them will be emboldened to ram their vehicles into peaceful protesters and, perhaps, kill someone. This is a concrete example of the way in which “silence is violence.”
Beyond making public statements, our city policies and budgets must invest in our community directly, not make policing the solution to every problem. For example, shift the budget away from the police presence at schools and towards more counselors, more teachers and more programs for kids. When I dropped my daughter off or picked her up at Hickman High School, the police presence was menacing. They were not there to protect our kids but to terrorize them and often to arrest them. This is anecdotal; nonetheless, it’s telling that I never saw a white kid arrested, only black students.
Our schools should not be part of the school-to-prison pipeline but, rather, sanctuaries that redress racist inequities, prepare students to fulfill their dreams, be leaders and contribute to the common good.
Aliki Barnstone was Poet Laureate of Missouri from 2016 to 2019 and is a professor of English at MU.