The Columbia City Council heard from a procession of residents Monday bringing complaints about police issues.
The complaints ranged from specific complaints about racist attitudes of individuals on the force to calls for reform of the department and the city’s approach to law enforcement.
Complaints came both at the scheduled public comment period near the beginning of the meeting and at the general comment period that regularly occurs at the end of council meetings.
Those protesting downtown in memory of George Floyd marched to city hall while the council met, and some demonstrators spoke to the council during its session.
All of the scheduled public comment speakers expressed anger toward the Columbia Police Department and called for the council to address the issues they raised. Speakers later in the evening also called for reform and spoke of their personal experiences with racism and their frustrations with behavior from the city’s police force.
“If there’s somebody up here that don’t think racism is real, come and be black with me for a week, just a week,” Barbara Jefferson told the council.
Another speaker, Paula Herrera-Gudiño, spoke about a woman’s experience when she stood before Columbia’s Citizens Police Review Board last week when reporting sexual harassment she says she endured from a police officer. Herrera-Gudiño said the board’s response to the woman was callous and cold.
“She was treated like she was invisible and like she wasn’t even there and like it was just everyday stuff,” Herrera-Gudiño said.
A number of speakers urged the council to focus on de-escalating police responses to incidents. One speaker, Grady Harrington, spoke about the recent event where a man threatened to take his life downtown during a protest. Harrington called for mental health training for first responders or hiring unarmed social workers to respond to mental health crises. Other speakers said that police officers didn’t respond properly and called for better mental health reform.
Traci Wilson-Kleekamp, an organizer for Race Matters, Friends, addressed institutional racism within the city government. Wilson-Kleekamp said the city prioritizes property owners over normal citizens.
“We recognize that righting an entrenched institutional culture is no small task. We recognize that,” Wilson-Kleepkamp said. “But at the same time, there must come a point when these institutions run by white folks, and that would be all of y’all, need to recognize the humanity of people who are not white.”
In a special session before the regular meeting, two board members elected June 2, Pat Fowler representing the First Ward and Matt Pitzer again representing the Fifth Ward, were sworn in. Outgoing First Ward member Clyde Ruffin made an emotional farewell.
The council heard a report on the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act; the city will receive $573,473. City staff conducted a survey of 266 citizens to determine where to allocate those funds.
The council addressed how the funds could also be used to address homelessness within Columbia. Fowler urged a meeting with residents within neighborhoods that have assisted with homelessness but need help. Concerning homelessness, priority was given to providing permanent housing rather than providing temporary shelter.
In other action, the council ended the temporary suspension of enforcing metered parking downtown that began with the COVID-19 outbreak.
The council directed the staff to work with the Downtown Community Improvement District on a pilot program that would provide a limited number of hooded meters to allow for curbside pickup for retailers. Nickie Davis, executive director of The District, suggested 25 hooded meters as a pilot project through July 31. Some council members expressed interest in providing more hooded meters during the pilot period.