SPRINGFIELD, Mo.- The president of Springfield’s NAACP chapter wants changes to policing and wants it now.
Toni Robinson spoke to the city council last night, urging them to adopt changes the group made last month.
Banning vascular neck restraints, reducing the number of black people disproportionally pulled over in traffic stops, and reforming the police-civilian review board.
“The manager even went out of his way to say that all the demands seem to be reasonable, and they need to work towards them,” said Robinson, “so we’re happy to hear those words.”
“I said oh, I think these are reasonable requests,” said Jason Gage, City Manager of the city of Springfield, “there’s no reason whatsoever a traffic stop disparity index in Springfield should be 2.71.”
Robinson said the fact that more black people are pulled over than white people makes their own driving experience a scary one, “that’s trauma that I personally speak to that we have to endure every single time when we get behind the wheel. And that is just not okay. Every time I get behind this wheel, it’s like a death sentence. Like, am I going to survive this time?”
City manager Jason Gage said the city is continuing to try to find out why the index is this high because some possible explanations aren’t likely, “there’s just a lot of racial bias. Do we think there’s enough racial bias to get to three times? I would like to think not. Groups of different races perhaps are violating the traffic laws more than others? And that doesn’t make sense either. I tend to think that there could be a systemic piece here. We need to dig deeper and figure out why.”
As for the vascular neck chokehold, the NAACP wants it banned.
“It doesn’t just affect me, it doesn’t just affect the chapter, it doesn’t just affect black people,” Robinson said, “we are the ones that are the most marginalized by this, it really affects our community as a whole.”
But Gage said the hold isn’t supposed to stop airflow, “what it’s intended to do, is put pressure on the sides on the neck. And quite honestly, you see a version of it in wrestling and other sports, what it’s intended to do is, it affects the blood flow and can cause someone to briefly go unconscious. If applied properly, it’s not intended to stop airflow at all. We don’t have any complaints or evidence that it’s being misused. However, we do recognize that across the country and in Springfield, that hold is a concern.”
And as for the civilian review board, Robinson said the selection process should change, “I believe that we can live in a city and a community where all lives, black lives matter and are valued.”
“I’m very open to the changes in the civilian review board, I don’t feel like that’s a role that I need to have,” Gage said.
“We make room, and we make space to highlight the pandemic,” said Robinson, “we’re talking about 400 years of slavery and oppression, that is a pandemic, in my opinion. Why is that not addressed with the same urgency?”
“It’s really important, and we have to put that as a top priority, and so I’m certainly willing to do that,” Gage said.
Gage tells Ozarks First that the city plans on having an action plan sometime in September.
Ozarks First reached out to the Springfield Police Department, and they said they believe Gage did a good job last night summarizing where we are in these discussions.
These are very complicated issues, and the department is looking forward to making changes.