Trace Wilson-Kleekamp

Traci Wilson-Kleekamp

Race Matters, Friends, CoMo for Progress, Columbia Faith Voices and other local groups are aware that the Columbia Police Officers’ Association (CPOA) contract is coming up for discussion at a yet-to-be announced council meeting.

Through email, public comments, social media alerts, letters to the editor, op-ed columns, and individual meetings with Mayor Brian Treece, City Manager John Glascock and his predecessor, Mike Matthes, Race Matters Friends, along with various local community groups, has repeatedly expressed disgust at the Columbia Police Officers’ Association (CPOA) serial practice of intentionally flaunting racially insensitive, violent and culturally divisive memes and posts on their Facebook page.

Despite the CPOA’s active anti-Black rhetoric, we’ve endeavored to build an amicable working relationship with our current Police Chief Geoff Jones.

Our engagements also included visits with council members, and on every occasion, we lobbied for a more robust discussion about the Fraternal Order of the Police and its member organization, the CPOA.

We have expressed our concerns about the organization’s political ideology around race, racism and community violence on social media that shape public perception and tarnish the reputation of both the CPOA and Columbia Police Department officers.

It is our view that the demand for community policing is very well documented. Further, local citizens believe Columbia police officers are supposed to be public servants providing the kind of policing the community has not only demanded but deserves.

In the current political moment across the country, we see daily racialized images that saturate our media, demonstrating that policing as an institution maintains a robust culture of “divide and conquer” practices, apathy toward Black/brown people, poor whites, as well as marginalized and minority communities and identities..

There is an institutional unwillingness to reflect on the ways race and racism negatively impact not only the quality of policing, but how state sponsored violence is jeopardizing the financial health, political stability and environmental sustainability of our republic, including in backyard communities like Columbia.

Race Matters, Friends’ primary goal since our inception in 2015 was to elevate public awareness and consciousness of what we believe are policing practices and philosophies that dehumanize Black citizens in particular.

There continues to be a police culture shaped — historically to the present — with over-policing of the Black community, which produces racially disparate outcomes and mistrust. With two-thirds of the general fund devoted to public safety, or the $26 million city budget dedicated to policing, and with only $2 million or so budgeted for health and human services, we cannot justify that policing as it is currently organized and practiced serves all Columbia citizens equitably.

At the Aug. 17 City Council meeting, Race Matters, Friends member Grace Whitlock-Vega and I discussed anti-racism — concepts developed in Ibram X. Kendi’s new book: “How to be an Antiracist.”

We challenged the council to embrace change beyond just words and rhetoric. By words and rhetoric, we meant language that is not general or unspecific and refuses to name explicit policy and practices that would undo structural barriers that perpetuate both inequality and inequity.

Race Matters, Friends and our allies have continuously requested that all of the city’s department heads and managers, police leadership, including rank and file officers, endeavor to develop a deeper, more honest, authentic and reflective understanding of race, racism and community, not through “anti-bias training,” but through ongoing anti-racist education.

We are not convinced that the city is offering the quality or level of education that would transform the municipal organization into an inclusive, anti-racist body of public servants. Further, these qualities should be required and sought in the eligibility and hiring process and codified by city ordinance.

Finally, a review of CPD’s annual Use of Force Reports from 2016 to 2019, demonstrate persistent disproportionate contact with Black residents in all measurable outcomes. Handcuffing children and senior citizens who are also not arrested mirrors vehicle stops that find no contraband. CPD’s relationship with Black citizens warrants a considerable cultural and philosophical shift, something that is already well-documented in data accumulated in the last decade, as well as decades prior.

The pervasive discriminatory attitude reflected by the CPOA on social media and through their denials of racial disparities, claiming Blacks are more prone to crime, paints a picture of a racially divisive association that shapes the image of the Columbia Police Department as an agency dedicated to a warrior “lock them up” mentality and profusely refuses to acknowledge the ways in which race, racism and violence have systemically and pathologically infected the institution of policing.

By maintaining a contract with the CPOA, the city will perpetuate a historical stance that valorizes racist and violent policing and erases any possibility of embracing guardianship practices and policies through legitimate collaboration with the community through two-way deliberative democracy practices and habits.

It’s time to let the CPOA go and develop a new and transformative vision of policing that is not entangled with anti-blackness or any kind of dehumanization.

Traci Wilson-Kleekamp is president of Race Matters, Friends.

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